Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Grave Mistake

Tenement – Bruised Music Vol. 2 (Album Review)

Tenement I

It’s only a week and a half into April but there have already been a slew of outstanding full streams to snake their way out into the public world. Among those titles are worthwhile efforts from the following: Kevin Morby, Good Dog, Culture Abuse, ShitKid, Space Raft, Holy Pinto, Free Cake For Every Creature, Ashley Shadow, Former Belle, Slushies, Wilder AdkinsKidpolaroid, Reptilians From Andromeda, Gorgeous Bully, John Shakespear, Cotopaxi, Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow, Murena Murena, and In  Love With A Ghost.

In addition to all of those bands’ new releases, there was also another outstanding installment of the DBTS:BS series via their third volume: DBTS:BS3. While all of those succeeded on their own terms, it was — unsurprisingly — the second of Tenement‘s Bruised Music compilation series that wound up registering as a genuine standout (and subsequently snagging this post’s featured spot).

For close to a decade now, Tenement has been one of the most influential bands in my life, both directly and tangentially. At this point, no band has been covered on this site more extensively than the Wisconsin trio, who I’ve lobbied for endlessly- to anyone who would listen. At some point, their songs became such a personal marker for me that they inseparably intertwined themselves to very specific parts of my life. To that extent, when I listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2, it’s extremely difficult to separate the music from my own personal history. However, it’s not entirely impossible to divide them into arenas that are mutually exclusive.

A large part of the connection I have to these songs can be directly sourced back to what made Tenement my favorite band: the surprisingly literary aspects of the songwriting, the unapologetic commitment to carving out an incredibly well-informed pop-sensibility, the absolute refusal to adhere or appropriate any of the trends that have unceremoniously appeared and disappeared throughout the time of their existence, and a genuine, undeniable, uncompromising passion for the music they make, fearless risks and all.

On the first collection of the Bruised Music compilations, I contributed an extensive piece for the record’s insert on how the band played  a large role in shaping my tastes and — to some extent — my own humanity. While Bruised Music Vol. 1 was an impressively comprehensive look at the band’s earliest era, Bruised Music Vol. 2 is a different beast entirely. Where its predecessor was more concerned with the band shaping a very particular sound, the latter excels in that sound’s expansion, deconstruction, and absolute demolition.

While there are still moments speckled all over Bruised Music Vol. 2 that are reminiscent of their early works, the majority of their latter efforts are imbued with a more adventurous approach to songwriting. A cleaned up version of “Taking Everything” — a song that originally appeared on a 2011 7″ that ranks as one of the best entries in an extraordinary discography before being released again in demo form on a Burger-issued cassette package of Napalm Dream  — which kicks the compilation off, may be the record’s most straightforward moment.

Where this version of “Taking Everything” differentiates itself between the powerful 7″ version and the frantically-paced demo version rests squarely in the drumming pattern, which ultimately winds up being a fascinating glimpse at the band’s decision-making process. Considering how overwhelmingly thoughtful Tenement’s songwriting construction has proven to be, time and time again, that’s not something that should be taken for granted. All of the subtle intricacies that have come to define the band’s musical aesthetic only point to an unavoidable conclusion: this band’s not just surpassing their peers as pure composers, they’re offering up masterclasses at an alarming rate.

It’s patently absurd that Bruised Music Vol. 2 is going to be viewed, largely, as a collection of scraps because they scan as essential elements of the band’s oeuvre. Whether it’s the more direct fare of Bruised Music Vol. 2‘s opening run or the more avant garde leanings that shape the record’s back half, there’s an evident level of painstaking care that goes a long way in making sure everything is represented adequately.

Toy pianos, sheer noise, and unrelenting dissonance inform the collection’s braver moments, like the instrumental “Jet Slug”, which casually reaffirm Tenement’s well-earned status as a singular act operating on the fringes of punk, noise, hardcore, and powerpop. For every stacked-to-the-heavens pop-leaning anthem that appears, there’s a stark counterbalance that arrives in tracks like Sick Club Vol. 3‘s extraordinary, convention-defying “Books on Hell and Sermons on TV”. While the band may have made their name on the former, it’s their unbelievable skill with the latter that’s elevated them from one of the most exciting bands presently operating to one of the outright best.

One part of Tenement’s ethos that never gets enough recognition is their complete and total willingness to disregard their most commercially accessible trappings in favor of intensely bold choices that have left sizable portions of their audiences feeling completely alienated. Whether that’s via the typically downtrodden Realism-Americana-Southern Gothic narrative hybrids of Amos Pitsch’s lyrics, the band’s embrace of John Cage-esque explorations of noise, or their continued refusal to be pigeonholed into any particular genre (much to the chagrin of many purists), they’ve established themselves as their own entity.

Bruised Music Vol. 2 functions strongly enough to have a legitimate shot at becoming the definitive example of how Tenement evolved into one of America’s most fascinating bands. None of these songs are weak and each one benefits from a very specific personality that betrays the band’s small-town upper Midwest upbringing. As a collection, it’s fairly representative of Tenement’s 2010-2014 era. As a standalone record, it’s stronger than most acts best release. As a demonstration of everything that has distinguished Tenement as one of the most inspirational acts in contemporary music, it’s an absolute necessity.

Listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2 below and order it from Grave Mistake here.

First Quarter Full Streams, Pt. 2

LVL UP II

As was noted and clearly evidenced by the last post’s overabundance of content, 2015’s off to a particularly strong start in terms of memorable records. While a few of those 75 entries from that post do have a shot at working their way into the upper echelons of the year’s finest by December, the 25 full streams listed below are among 2015’s very finest offerings. From demo compilations of old material to split EP’s to full-lengths, everything on this list is worthy of an immediate purchase. A few of these are pulverizing shows of force, a few are immediate sugar-rush blitzes, and a few are quietly devastating. All of them are releases I’ve listened to multiple times over and formed very extreme connections with on a myriad of levels. Don’t make a regrettable decision by not giving any of the unfamiliar titles a fair shot: there’s a release here for just about everyone.

1. Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks have earned a fair amount of praise from this site and a large amount of that’s been for their exhilarating self-titled, which is the band’s first complete full band effort. Recalling the transition that Radiator Hospital made with their brilliant debut full band full-length effort, Something Wild, Quarterbacks doesn’t pull any of its punches. It’s a spiky record that lends Dean Engle’s songs a ferocious punch that comes with a lingering bite.

2. Tenement – Bruised Music: Volume 1

I’ve written an enormous amount of words about my unending love for Tenement. Some of those words can be read in the zine that comes packaged with this record. One of my favorite bands, if not outright favorite, for nearly a decade, Bruised Music: Vol. 1 is the perfect reminder of why I fell for this band in the first place. A compilation of early material from long out-of-print 7″ records, compilations, and other various scraps, this is the definitive starter kit for anyone looking to retrace Tenement’s career path to its humble beginnings. Unsurprisingly, it’s also ridiculously brilliant. Expect to see more words about this record published on this site in the coming months.

3. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching

Krill forever.

4. Hailey Wojcik – Book of Beasts

One of the year’s best early surprises, Hailey Wojcik’s Book of Beasts EP has all the makings of what could (and should) prove to be a career-making effort for the singer/songwriter. Dark tones, brilliant composition, strong melody, and an incredibly alluring voice is always a dangerous combination. Here, each one of those elements is shot through with a Gothic Americana sensibility that manages to find its niche in forward thinking. It’s an incredible release and deserves much more attention than it’s been receiving. Bonus points for offering the release up on bandcamp for the price of $6.66.

5. Daddy Issues – Double Loser

Daddy Issues may not be the most recognizable name on the market but we’re less than a month removed from the cassette release of Double Loser and the thing’s already sold out. Now, measuring a record’s strength in terms of sales is generally a deeply problematic formula- but in this case, it seems just. Double Loser has the strength of what could become a celebrated cult classic among a very particular breed of crate-diggers. Undeniably winsome and darkly enchanting, this EP cements Daddy Issues’s position as a band that’s ready for much bigger things.

6. Pope – Fiction

Heavy, cutting, and melodic in a way that hits the intersection of a wide spread of tastes just right, Pope’s Fiction is the kind of record that’s got the verve to last long after it appears on a few best-of lists. Cloaked in a wall-of-noise type production sheathe, Fiction is one of the first quarter’s most unapologetic and propulsive releases. Balancing a suspiciously taut tightrope between shoegaze and post-punk, every song manages to be breathtaking by virtue of sheer cathartic release. Pope’s made something genuinely exhilarating that deserves to be in as many collections as possible.

7. Alanna McArdle – reticular (2012-2013)

While Alanna McArdle may be best known as the lead personality for site favorites Joanna Gruesome, her career doesn’t begin and/or end with that particular band. McArdle recently released a compilation of genuinely stunning (and mostly acoustic) bedroom recordings. The guitarist/vocalist taps into something more bravely vulnerable than the trappings of Joanna Gruesome usually allows for, creating a hushed, spellbinding atmosphere. reticular (2012-2013) has been one of 2015’s more unceremonious releases but it’s also easily one of the year’s most fascinating. Already one of the most-played releases in my library, it’s a monumental entry in the career of one of the more engaging musical figures of our generation.

8. Trust Fund – No One’s Coming For Us

Cut Me Out“, one of No One’s Coming For Us‘ first singles, seemed to be a strong indicator that the band would have something special with their upcoming record. It was a presumption that the record somehow, against reasonable logic, managed to exceed. Easily the strongest effort in the band’s burgeoning discography, No One’s Coming For Us is a specatacular warning shot from the kind of band that seems like they’re setting up for the long haul.

9. Cloakroom – Further Out

Most of the description for Pope’s Fiction also stands true for Cloakroom‘s jaw-dropping Further Out. Except here, Cloakroom adds an extra layer of heaviness, which frequently relents to territory even more accessible than the realms of Pope’s niche operation level. Further Out is going to continue to stand as one of 2015’s most awe-inspiring releases as the months progress and it’ll be the kind of record people will look to for inspiration. It’s an incredible achievement and ranks among the finest releases to carry the vaunted Run For Cover tag.

10. Wildhoney – Sleep Through It

The first two months of 2015 were very kind to bands incorporating a heavy shoegaze bent into their sound, a fact furthered by listening to Wildhoney’s gorgeous full-length debut, Sleep Through It. Embracing the pop sensibilities of the genre and maximizing them without ever drifting out of post-punk’s territories, Wildhoney manages to create an incredibly appealing record that delivers on the promise of their brilliant EP. Sleep Through It is yet another album people are going to be talking about for many months (and hopefully, years) to come.

11. Lady Lamb – After

Goodbye Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, hello Lady Lamb. The rightfully-acclaimed After features songwriter Aly Spaltro at a transition phase in her career. Already a few extraordinary records deep into a continuously promising run of releases, After is already taking Spaltro to the next level(s). With the sudden name change, Spaltro managed to make her brand even more accessible without diminishing any of her other qualities. On the contrary, After may be the fiercest entry in Lady Lamb’s remarkable discography. After was initially teased with the absurdly delightful “Billions of Eyes” and the rest of the record manages to live up to those intensely high levels of promise. Listen below and fall in love all over again.

12. PWR BTTM + Jawbreaker Reunion – Republican National Convention

Two of New York’s finest emerging young bands come together to make a split EP, what can go wrong? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Jawbreaker Reunion continue to be as exciting as ever, PWR BTTM make one hell of a mark, and both “Hold Yer Tongue” and “Adventure Time” rank among the best songs of the year. Every other Valentine’s Day gift paled in comparison.

13. Slutever – Almost Famous

Punchy, strong, and incredibly catchy, Slutever followed up their near-perfect Girlpool split with this piece of magic. Expertly balancing basement pop and basement punk, Slutever take their craft to an entirely new place with Almost Famous, their finest work to date (and an absolute must-own). From the traces of sludge-punk on the reactionary masterpiece “I Miss America” to the hard-charging rush of “Maggot”, Slutever fearlessly follows their whims and explores some previously uncharted territory. Astoundingly, all of it works and leaves the band with a very real contender for EP of the Year.

14. Lighting Bolt – Fantasy Empire

Thousands of writers have tried to extol the virtues of Lightning Bolt’s furor and no one’s ever managed to match the band’s intensity. Sometimes it’s just better to let the reputation for such a singular act to do the talking- but it wouldn’t be fair to the band if I didn’t note that this just may be the very best record the duo’s ever made.

Listen to Fantasy Empire for a limited time over at NPR’s First Listen

15. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney’s thrilling hiatus-ender, No Cities to Love, was one of the year’s first universally acclaimed records and it’s easy to see (or hear) why. Not just incredible in terms of a comeback record but as a career staple for one of the most legendary bands of our era. The trio’s sharper (and thornier) than they’ve ever been on No Cities to Love and couldn’t have scheduled their re-entrance at a better time for their fierce, commentary-heavy diatribes.

16. Midwives – LP

When Midwives put out their incendiary EP last year, I knew I’d found another Wisconsin-based band to rally behind. Naturally, the hardcore band (which boasts Graham Hunt of Midnight Reruns among its members) has followed that short order of songs up with a gloriously unhinged, shit-kicking full-length. Increasingly scrappy and direct, Midwives may very well have their sights set on bigger things- and if they don’t, those bigger things might find them anyway.

17. Spook The Herd – Freaks b/w Fermented

There’s a very particular breed of 90’s revivalism whose subversion among current bands is becoming increasingly present. Intriguingly, that camp of 90’s acts (the one that bands like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf belonged to) is notoriously difficult to recreate in intriguing ways. Many of the bands that have released records through Exploding in Sound are a part of that current crop of bands who look to that era for influence and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Spook the Herd joined that list. “Freaks” and “Fermented” are both first-rate examples of revivalism done right.

18. LVL UP – Dark Sided Stuff

Anyone whose been following this site at all for the past few months has likely seen LVL UP come up a few times. Dark Sided Stuff, their most recent release, is a compilation of the demos that would go on to become Hoodwink’d (this sites pick for Album of the Year)  and a few other recordings that were cut during that time. Unsurprisingly, the end result is a brilliant mess that strips the band back to their rawest state, allowing for a further understanding of their process. Enigmatic and charismatic in equal measure, it’s a release well worth anyone’s investment.

19. The Juliana Hatfield Three – Whatever, My Love

The Juliana Hatfield Three may not have sparked as much attention as Sleater-Kinney did when they made an unexpected return to music but Whatever, My Love does occupy a similar space to No Cities to Love. Both are examples of a band making a return to form without much warning, after a long time away, and both include some of the best material of each band’s career. A lot of bands that garner a lot of attention here (All Dogs, Radiator Hospital, etc.) have listed The Juliana Hatfield Three as a major influence and those connections, fascinatingly, have never been more crystallized than they are with Whatever, My Love. Don’t let this one fall to the wayside.

20. Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home

The name Chastity Belt’s another one that’s been kicked around here for a while, thanks mostly to their excellent 2013 LP, No Regerts. Even with as good as that record was, it proved to be impossible to predict just how incredible Time to Go Home would turn out. Chastity Belt have enhanced their identity with their boldest and most fully-realized work to date. Rarely eclipsing mid-tempo, the band allows themselves to settle into comfortably meticulous grooves with a confidence that’s self-assured enough to put a lot of other bands (bands who have been around much, much longer) to absolute shame.

Listen to Time To Go Home over at NPR’s First Listen.

21. Leggy – Nice Try

Grrrls Like Us” provided a fitting end-cap to Leggy’s first major year as a band. They’d previously released the commendably great Cavity Castle EP, which wound up being quite a few people’s favorite EP of 2014. Now, the band’s hell-bent on capitalizing on that momentum and they’re doing it in enthralling fashion. Nice Try, an EP the band released last month, isn’t just the strongest work of their young career- it’s a gigantic leap forward for their songwriting. Never anything less than full-throttle, Nice Try is an invigorating reminder that this band’s not going anyway anytime soon.

22. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White’s Big Inner was one of 2012’s most fascinating- and unique- folk-pop records. Full of wayward experimentalism and intricate arrangements, it showcased White as someone who possessed an original voice. Three years later, he’s unleashed his follow-up: Fresh Blood. While the music’s scaled a back quite a bit in terms of arrangements, the songs here are more immediate, direct, and accessible. By indulging in greater restraint White may have also wound up with something more lasting. Adamantly defiant of easy genre categorization, Fresh Blood makes its mark and leaves an endearing scar that refuses to fade.

23. Mount Eerie – Sauna

Phil Elverum has gone through many phases, shape-shifting at his leisure into whatever suits his mind at the time. One of his most celebrated ongoing projects, Mount Eerie, returned this year with the brilliant Sauna, which offers up an enveloping ambient sprawl. Gently immersive in some spots and dangerously raw in others, it’s one of Elverum’s most compelling tapestries to date.

24. Yowler – The Offer

The Offer‘s devastating title track is one of the only standalone songs to have earned a write-up on this site so far this year. The reason? It’s not just one of the best songs of this year (so far), it’s one of the finest of the decade. “The Offer” is also, appropriately, the most representative song on Maryn Jones’ solo debut (using the Yowler moniker, at least). Cautious, frightened, anxious, and defiant, The Offer is a gut-punch of a record that occasionally nears uncomfortably voyeuristic levels. The Offer is the perfect soundtrack for sleepless nights spent in near-silence, when the only other audible sound is the rain coming down.

25. Spectres – Dying

Rounding out this run of records is, somewhat incredibly, another shoegaze-leaning record that never diminished its brute force. Dipping into the decidedly darker realms of post-punk, Spectres managed to create a behemoth of an LP with the boldly-titled Dying. Opening with a genuinely intimidating noise collage, the band sinks its claws in and proceeds to tear away in the most feral manner possible, continuously refusing to relinquish its grasp. At points, Dying approaches black metal but never loses sight of its overall melodic sensibility. By taking stormier roads, Spectres have managed to start the year off in an impossibly blinding fashion. Listen to the sounds of Dying below.

Tenement – Morning Mouth (Stream)

Tenement I

Over the course of my interest in music, particularly music that resided within the confines of DIY, no band’s meant more to me than Tenement. Back when the band spent their time running shows out of the sorely-missed BFG house, I’d be there at every possible opportunity- but that’s skipping ahead of the beginnings of the story. Back in 2008, I booked Tenement to play a small coffee shop that frequently hosted shows on not much more than a whim. It was one of the first shows I ever had a hand in booking and it immediately became one of the most memorable- not just for that reason- but because what Tenement left up on that small stage (one they invited the entire crowd onto) was something I’d spent years looking for: a band more punk than pop who were at least somewhat defined by a sense of well-informed literacy.

In subsequent reviews (across various publications) that I wrote about Tenement’s music, I’d frequently compare guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s exacting sense of detailed Americana to authors like John Steinbeck. In lyric copy, Pitsch frequently zeroes in on the mundane aspects of everyday life that too frequently go unexamined (and, subsequently, uncelebrated). While this is an aspect of the band’s music that’s gained an unbelievable amount of clarity over the years, its characteristically humble beginnings can be heard in songs like the fiery “Morning Mouth”, which is one of a handful of songs the band’s remastered for an upcoming early music compilation entitled Bruised Music: Vol. 1. Incidentally, “Morning Mouth” was the second song I ever saw the band live- and the one that immediately convinced me I had a new favorite band.

Spending some time at The BFG always reaffirmed my earliest suspicious about Tenement after that show- the band’s versatility was shaped in part by their extremely diverse listening habits. It was impossible to spend thirty seconds flipping through any one of the thousands of releases that littered that house and not jump from 80’s hardcore to free jazz session recordings to sludge to the golden era of soul, all of which would be directly underneath an unending murderer’s row of killer flyers for (increasingly strong) bills that the house hosted. It evoked the ideal of the American melting pot more than just a little and, in a way, furthered the band’s identity. All of that, the feeling of sense and place, comes back as acutely as possible when revisiting a song like “Morning Mouth”- it’s undeniably indicative of the promise Tenement continues to fulfill and exceed while remaining a powerhouse in its own right.

Surprisingly intricate passages of “Morning Mouth”, which was originally released on the False Teeth 7″, revealed the band’s enviable talents at an early stage of their career while also betraying the band’s songwriting mastery. Hooks followed hooks, always with the momentum of a sledgehammer blow to the gut, while the band seemed to be on the verge of spiraling towards an unimaginable ascension. Burning bridges, a keen sense of surroundings, and an absolutely vicious musical performance are some of the more defining elements of “Morning Mouth”, which remains the warning shot that convinced me that Wisconsin had a band worthy of staggering levels of admiration. It may not have been the band’s only early warning shot but it remains one that holds a significant amount of power to this day. Who knew indulging nostalgia could be so invigorating?

Watch that early performance on a stage full of people below, listen to the Stereogum premiere of the remaster here, and pre-order Bruised Music: Vol. 1 from Grave Mistake (in collaboration with Toxic Pop) here.

Brain F≠ – Sicks (Stream)

It’s been another one of those days. A day with a cavalcade of new and noteworthy music news descending at an impossible velocity. There was official live performance videos from Cloud Nothings (which came with an accompanying tour announcement), Fever the Ghost, and Those Darlins. Following that, official videos from Metronomy (which has the distinction of being directed by Michel Gondry), OFF!Soak, Tacocat, and Quilt. Additionally, there was new music from Black Lips, The CoathangersCreative Adult, Denney and the JetsEx-Cult, and Woods (which would’ve been the feature today but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that With Light and With Love is going to be picking up a lot of press in the days to come). All adding up to an overload of material before the day even hit its halfway point. In the midst of all that chaos, a song by Brain F≠ (pronounced Brain Flannel, apparently) called “Sicks” managed to stand out.

Brain F≠ sound sort of like Be Your Own PET and OFF! were thrown into a blender while riding an adrenaline high, attempting to beat each other to death. “Sicks” is a manic blast of charged-up punk-leaning hardcore that’s accessible enough to snag a lot of potential interest. That interest will undoubtedly be coming their way following today’s release of Empty Set (via a joint release between Grave Mistake and Sorry State Records), the full-length that “Sicks” is taken from. Importantly, the band seems to have already grasped one of the keys to an early success- and that lies in the fact that no matter how aggressive Brain F≠ gets, they always retain a sense of fun that’s often far too buried (and crucial) to music that operates on the fringes of hardcore. “Sicks” is a genuine moment of excitement from a band worth getting excited over. Hear “Sicks” below and go destroy something useless.

Big Eyes – The Sun Still Shines (Music Video)

Big Eyes’ Almost Famous was one of the definitive albums of summer 2013, following up Hard Life with assured poise and a more refined sound. Earlier this week the band released a music video for “The Sun Still Shines” that features band leader Kate Eldridge (who’s continuing an absurd winning streak following Cheeky and Used Kids with her current act) behaving in a wildly unruly fashion. “The Sun Still Shines” music video is fashioned after B-roll slasher flicks and showcases the band’s goofier side. It all amounts to a great way to kill some time on a dreary Sunday. Almost Famous is available for order through Grave Mistake. Watch the video below.