Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Greg Ambler

Songs of Summer: 2014 (Mixtape)

hbsos

Another hundred posts in and this site’s still humming along. As tradition dictates, today is one of the only days that doesn’t get dedicated to the outstanding just-released content (though there was an incredible amount, which will be covered tomorrow)- and features a digital mixtape instead. There was a lot of talk over what the song of the summer was and no real general consensus in any type of forum. In the spirit of that surprisingly diverse conversation, the mixtape features the songs that resonated throughout this place most strongly during what proved to be an incredibly memorable summer (covering both NXNE and Pitchfork festivals among the many highlights). As the season approaches its end, it only felt right to shine a light on some of those songs one more time before the year draws to a close.

A few of these have been featured in previous playlists but that should only stand as a testament to their longevity. While a few weren’t even released in summer, they definitely struck a deeper chord as the surroundings finally caught up to the mood they inhabited. Every single one of them can be streamed below (a tracklist is also provided) and, being that this marks another hundred posts- and in the event anyone was curious in catching something they missed, hyperlinks to posts No. 200-299 are given beneath the tracklist. So, turn the volume all the way up and enjoy some great music while the warm weather’s still here.

Stream Songs of Summer: 2014 below and feel free to navigate through any of the listed hyperlinks.

1. Lost Boy ? – Hollywood
2. LVL UP – Soft Power
3. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs
4. The Coasts – I Just Wanna Be A Star
5. The Yolks – You Don’t Live Here No More
6. Tweens – Forever
7. The Sleepwalkers – My Best Was Never Good Enough
8. Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03
9. The Freezing Hands – Good Morning Takeout
10. Happyness – Anything I Do Is All Right
11. Dead Stars – Summer Bummer
12. Joanna Gruesome – Jerome (Liar)
13. Perfect Pussy – Leash Called Love (Sugarcubes Cover)
14. Eugene Quell – Hell Presidente
15. Happy Diving – Weird Dream
16. Mean Creek – My Madeline
17. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
18. Left & Right – Low Expectations
19. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
20. Dude York – Believer
21. Cayetana – Scott Get the Van, I’m Moving
22. Lenguas Largas – Kawasaki Dream
23. Wyatt Blair – Girls!
24. Jawbreaker Reunion – Empire
25. Reigning Sound – Falling Rain

+++

HB200: NXNE 2014: A Listener’s Guide (Mixtape)
HB201: Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs – Calgary Hill (Music Video)
HB202: Swearin’ at Memorial Union Terrace – 5/30/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB203: Watch This: Vol. 27
HB204: Watch This: Vol. 28
HB205: Pretty Pretty – Leather Weather (Stream)
HB206: Haunted Heads – VV (Stream)
HB207: Marvelous Mark – Bite Me (Music Video)
HB208: Mean Creek – Anxiety Girl (Music Video)
HB209: Bob Mould – I Don’t Know You Anymore (Music Video)
HB210: Parquet Courts – Black and White (Music Video)
HB211: Greys – Use Your Delusion (Music Video)
HB212: Beverly – Honey Do (Music Video)
HB213: Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club (Review)
HB214: Green Dreams – Rich Man Poor Man (Review)
HB215: Watch This: Vol. 29
HB216: Watch This: Vol. 30
HB217: La Sera – Fall in Place (Music Video)
HB218: Lemuria – Brilliant Dancer (Music Video)
HB219: The Midwestern Charm – Growing Pains (Trailer)
HB220: NXNE: Day 1 (Pictorial Review)
HB221: Watch This: Vol. 31
HB222: NXNE: Day 2 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB223: NXNE Day 3: Greys, Benjamin Booker, Viet Coing (Photo Gallery)
HB224: NXNE Day 3: Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, Spoon (Photo Gallery)
HB225: NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Photo Gallery)
HB226: NXNE Day 4: Creep Highway, Perfect Pussy, Frankie Cosmos, Swearin’ (Photo Gallery)
HB227: NXNE Day 5: Courtney Barnett, Army Girls (Photo Gallery)
HB228: Soybomb HQ: Cellphone, Ice Cream, Pleasure Leftists, Perfect Pussy (Photo Gallery)
HB229: Smiling Buddha: Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, METZ (Photo Gallery)
HB230: NXNE: Day 3 (Review, Videos, Photos, Videos)
HB231: NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)
HB232: NXNE Day 4 + 5 (Review, Photos)
HB233: Perfect Pussy at Soybomb HQ – 6/21/14 (Review, Video)
HB234: METZ at Smiling Buddha – 6/22/14 (Review, Video)
HB235: Deafheaven at Bottom Lounge – 7/18/14 (Review, Photos)
HB236: Pitchfork Festival Day 2 (Review)
HB237: Pitchfork Festival Day 3 (Review)
HB238: Pitchfork Festival Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review)
HB239: Watch This: Vol. 32
HB240: Watch This: Vol. 33
HB241: Watch This: Vol. 34
HB242: Watch This: Vol. 35
HB243: Watch This: Vol. 36
HB244: Watch This: Vol. 37
HB245: LVL UP – Soft Power (Stream)
HB246: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning (Stream)
HB247: Iceage – The Lord’s Favorite (Music Video)
HB248: Terry Malts – Let You In (Stream)
HB249: Dead Stars – Summer Bummer (Music Video)
HB250: Songs in Screen: A Look Back (Music Video Mixtape)
HB251: The Frankl Project – Day at the Races (Stream)
HB252: Cancers – Moral Net (Stream)
HB253: Watch This: Vol. 38
HB254: Mannequin Pussy – Kiss (Stream)
HB255: Vacation – Every Direction (Stream)
HB256: The Midwestern Charm – Bloodbath (Stream)
HB257: Dude York – Believer (Stream)
HB258: PURPLE 7 – Wise Up (Stream)
HB259: Lost Boy ? – Hollywood (Stream)
HB260: Mulligrub – Canadian Classic (Stream)
HB261: Purling Hiss – Learning Slowly (Stream)
HB262: Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell (Music Video)
HB263: Two Houses – Disappointer (Stream)
HB264: Cayetana – Scotty Get the Van, I’m Moving (Stream)
HB265: Shy Boys – Life Is Peachy (Music Video)
HB266: Low Expectations – Left & Right (Stream)
HB267: Sonic Avenues – Bored With Love (Stream)
HB268: Joanna Gruesome – Jerome (Liar) (Stream)
HB269: The Yolks – You Don’t Live Here No More (Stream)
HB270: Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03 (Stream)
HB271: Watch This: Vol. 39
HB272: Ex-Breathers – Pocket (Stream)
HB273: Liam Betson – Rapture in Heat (Stream)
HB274: Allison Crutchfield – Berlin (Stream)
HB275: The Ar-Kaics – Be My Baby (Stream)
HB276: Even Hand – Even Hand (Album Review, Stream)
HB277: Naomi Punk – Firehose Face (Music Video)
HB278: Kindling – Sunspots (Stream)
HB279: Places to Hide – Nowhere Bound (Stream)
HB280: We Need Secrets – How You Remember (Stream)
HB281: LVL UP – I Feel Ok (Stream)
HB282: Girl Tears – Candy Darling (Stream)
HB283: Ex Hex – Beast (Stream)
HB284: The Freezing Hands – Good Morning Takeout (Stream)
HB285: Follies – I Make Sense (Stream)
HB286: Happy Diving – Weird Dream (Stream)
HB287: Big Ups – Justice (Music Video)
HB288: Radiator Hospital – Bedtime Story (Music Video)
HB289: Space Raft at Crunchy Frog – 8/16/14 (Pictorial Review)
HB290: Watch This: Vol. 40
HB291: The Seeers – Without Lites (Stream)
HB292: Dark Blue – Here On My Street (Stream)
HB293: Lenguas Largas – Kawasaki Dream (Stream)
HB294: Wyatt Blair – Girls! (Stream)
HB295: Perfect Pussy – Leash Called Love (Stream)
HB296: Eternal Summers – Window (Stream)
HB297: Watch This: Vol. 41
HB298: Eugene Quell – A Great Useleness (Review, Stream)
HB299: LVL UP – DBTS (Stream)

Perfect Pussy – Leash Called Love (Stream)

Perfect Pussy XXXIV

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.

Watch This: Vol. 38

Well, it’s been a long battle but it seems like the impossible has finally arrived and Watch This has been brought back up to speed. To celebrate, the 38th installment will feature no single performance but rather small (or full) sets from a set of five. All of the artists that appear in this list could rightfully be considered site favorites (and, hell, one of them has essentially become Heartbreaking Bravery’s flagship band) and will undoubtedly be featured more in the future. In the case of Courtney Barnett, an isolated performance from her included set has already been given a spot in a past Watch This– but packaged together with the rest of an extraordinary performance, it proved too tantalizing to pass up (this may very well be the only repeat performance Watch This ever runs). All of that being the case, this is quite a lot to take in- so, lean back, settle in, turn the speakers up, and Watch This.

1. Bleeding Rainbow (KEXP)

Kicking off a trio of KEXP sets is a band who recently earned a spot towards the top of the Music Video Mixtape,  Bleeding Rainbow. Bringing four of their best songs out for the occasion, the shoegaze-leaning quartet drives home just how forceful these songs are capable of being. It’s a startling performance from a band that continues to pick up momentum. Don’t get caught in their way.

2. Fear of Men (KEXP)

Fear of Men’s Loom was an important step for a band that had long been deserving of a push forward. In the live setting, the songs get an even airier texture than they do on record, lending it a wide-open feel that propels them to greater heights. All four songs deserve repeat viewings in their own right but are even better when played as a set. A very welcome reminder of a record worth more discussion that it’s received.

3. Courtney Barnett (KEXP)

As stated in the video’s introduction, A Sea of Split Peas was one of 2014’s great surprises; a star-making effort from a relative unknown. Here, KEXP celebrates it as fully as possible, turning their lenses (and audio equipment) onto this massive eight-song set from The Triple Door as part of their VIP Club concert series. As it progresses, Barnett grows more comfortable and more confident, eventually bringing everything home with the can’t-fail 1-2 combination of “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser”. Don’t miss it.

4. Saintseneca (NPR)

Dark Arc, Saintseneca‘s ANTI- debut, made a lot of people (finally) sit up and take notice of them- and even lent the members other respective projects (All Dogs and The Sidekicks, especially) some well-deserved exposure. For a band built from that background, something like this- an NPR Tiny Desk Session feature- feels like nothing short of a major triumph. There are very few things that feel more right than a band worthy of a major break actually catches one. To top everything off, this particular session is an absolute stunner and stands as one of NPR’s best sessions in recent memory.  

5. Perfect Pussy (Pitchfork)

Close to everything that could be said about Perfect Pussy’s set at Pitchfork has already been covered– but, if the opportunity to write even more about this band presents itself, I’ll jump at it. While live footage capture can never come close to doing the experience of actually seeing a band like Perfect Pussy justice, it’s difficult to argue against when its presented so beautifully. The more I watch these videos, the more I come back to a recurring thought: music and musicians, at large, are split into two groups- the technicians vs. the feelers. In the former category, bands will often sacrifice energy to present their music with as much polished precision as possible, whereas in the latter category, perfect technique is an acceptable casualty because it stands in the way of unfiltered passion. I will always stand on- and stand up for- the side of the latter. It’s a position that Perfect Pussy fully embodies and it makes their sets that much more thrilling (there’s a reason I’ve gone well out of my way to see them no less than eight times this year-so-far). So, while Meredith Graves‘ voice is noticeably raw (she’d been on a 12+ hour sabbatical from speaking the night before after noticing it was shot and fearing she might lose it completely), it’s also a small testament to courage. Ultimately, it’s exactly the kind of thing that gives a performance like this an incredible amount of character- and it has the potential to inspire legions of aspiring musicians to get behind a microphone so they can pour their hearts out.

Pitchfork Festival Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review)

p4k logo

It’s only fitting that the run of festival coverage ends with Perfect Pussy, a band that’s earned more words from this site than any other. They’ve been a part of the site since it’s very beginnings (vocalist Meredith Graves, now firmly positioned as this site’s patron saint, was one of the very first to know that it even existed). They’re one of the only bands that inspired me to break a narrative rule in order to use first-person by virtue of being so endearingly sincere about issues that are important to myself and to this site. I have lost desire for all feeling and Say Yes to Love earned two of the strongest reviews that this site’s ever given and their showstopping NXNE performance prompted the most personal thing I’ve ever written for any outlet. I have seen this band’s ascension and felt confident in my position to ally myself with them, even in the face of a staggering amount of backlash. Over the past 7 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to seen them play 8 sets (and in everything from a halfpipe in a bike shop to a fairly extravagant ballroom) and fully intend on raising that number at the next available opportunity. Of those 8 appearances, none felt as important as their showcase on Day 3 of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

I’d spent a large portion of the festival, and the moments leading up to their set, with a nerve-wracked Graves and watching her steady transformation throughout their set was nothing short of inspiring. All of her fears seemed to be coming to a head before their set even started when the sound crew ran into a technical issue with her vocal amp. This prompted a brief delay as a visibly distressed Graves did everything she could to attempt to assist them in resolving the issue as the rest of the band quietly set up around her. It was a matter of minutes before the issue was resolved and the band was allowed to breathe a collected sigh of relief. They took a minute (maybe less) to collect themselves sidestage before walking back out and picking up their instruments in front of a crowd of roughly 3,000 people, all of which anxious to have their opinions dissuaded or reaffirmed.

What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary: as the band tore through song after song with an indescribable amount of passion and meaning, the sound proved to be perfect. Graves was audible, no instrument overpowered another, and each member gave the performances of their lives. I’ve never seen Garrett Koloski, easily one of the most underrated and overlooked drummers out there, hit his drums with more fierceness or look more determined. Synth and noise mastermind Shaun Sutkus seemed like he was completely disconnected from everything but hitting every nuanced motion with an uncanny precision while occasionally being driven by the music into frantic, spastic movements. Bassist Greg Ambler ran into no problems with his cab, head, or levels and took the opportunity to thrash around without consequence, pummeling his bass to the point of abuse without missing a note. Guitarist Ray McAndrew transformed into a mode that bordered the animialistic, growing increasingly intense as the set’s momentum picked up before it’s final breaking point at the very end.

As for Graves… there are no words that can do justice to just how commanding of a performer she is. It’s an intrinsic quality that’s completely intangible and it was one of the things that made me fall for this band in the first place; her face is usually contorted in a manner that expresses the meanings she’s trying to convey because she can’t help it- she feels this music so completely that it seems to pour out through every fiber of her being. As a performer, it’s tough to tell if she animated the songs or the songs animate her, and watching her use her conviction to convince a crowd of thousands (easily one of the largest the band has ever played to) as they brought her to ecstatic tears was one of the proudest moments of my life. Every flower that was thrown at her (and there were several), and every tear that she shed, was earned- a culmination of understanding, validation, and the feeling of a moment.

Watching Graves’ transformation from fighting against some severe nerves and her total certainty that everything would go wrong (which, unfortunately, has seemed to be a trend at several of their recent shows) to the flower-adorned vocalist in the throes of one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, suddenly recognizing that everything was falling into place, prompted a feeling that’s literally impossible to put into words. It brought out the life in her, it brought out the life in the audience, and it sure as hell brought out the life in me- it’s those exact moments of subtle minutiae that I built this site to celebrate and to see it happen to someone who has become one of my closest friends was unforgettable. Being surrounded by strangers, all having extremely intense reactions that paralleled mine was an experience in camaraderie that all festivals are supposed to foster; where the setting suddenly doesn’t matter and everyone’s putting their all into the performance happening on the stage in front of them.

I“, “Driver“, “Bells”, “Interference Fits“, “Big Stars”, “III”, “Advance Upon the Real”, the songs came one after another, with no interruptions from the band other than an occasional thank you. The order didn’t matter because no one had time to react; every song felt like a perfectly-timed triumph that whipped the audience into a frenzy (shouting “Since when do we say yes to love?” during “Interference Fits” with 3,000 strangers and a few close friends broke the plane of ecstasy right into total catharsis). All of the front rows were doing their best to hold onto something, anything, for dear life as a mosh pit threatened to consume them. Railings were saviors, heads were kicked in, elbows were thrown, and everybody made sure that if someone else was in trouble, they were given the attention that they needed to prevent anything damaging from happening. Everything and everyone was unified in a staggering display of the exact kind of support the band does their best to endorse. No oppression, only care.

As the band wound their set down with Sutkus’ noise, sweat-and-tear-strained mascara was running down Graves’ unbelieving face; a lasting image of gratitude. She took out a camera to take a snapshot of an adoring audience, still in stunned disbelief, visibly overwhelmed, as everyone else quietly packed up, unable to contain smiles of their own. Nothing had gone wrong. Nothing had broken. Nothing had stopped the band- and it’s extremely unlikely anything could have stopped them after a certain point, anyway. As everyone left, Sutkus stayed, still completely entranced by the moment, doing one of his best noise deconstructions to date, as people in the audience caught their breath and looked on, either in awe, wonderment, or a state of complete and total confusion. Perfect Pussy had said just about everything they’d ever wanted to say with that set, in exactly the way it should be said. Actions became words, words became daggers with pinpoint accuracy, and no one could be bothered to tear themselves away. Each one of their thirty minutes (a marathon set, by their standards) was paid back in full by an unrelenting applause- and somewhere, off in the corner of my mind, that applause has refused to cease. Hats off to the band, hats off to the film crew (who provided some stunning visuals), hats off to the sound crew, and hats off to the audience who finally gave the band exactly the kind of recognition they deserve.

Deafheaven at Bottom Lounge – 7/18/14 (Review, Photos)

IMG_7054

Last weekend Chicago’s Union Park hosted one of the Midwest’s stacked festivals of the year and various venues around the area hosted official after party shows. By weekend’s end, around 20 sets were taken in between the official showcases and one of the day 1 after shows. The latter of which featured the first sets I was able to see throughout the weekend (shortly after arriving at The Bottom Lounge- who were putting on the after show, Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves stole me off for drinks at the festival grounds and we were able to hear Beck float through an impressive-sounding set in the background). After running back to the Bottom Lounge there was a short amount of time and the night’s first act, Pink Frost, had their set off and running. The Chicago-based quartet have been a fixture of the local scene for years and now, with the release of Traitors becoming increasingly imminent (it’s due out in September), they’re operating at a higher level than ever. Mixing shoegaze, psych, and punk elements into something impressive and towering on record, they’re even more formidable as a live act. All of the years they’ve spent playing together has resulted in an extraordinarily tight dynamic where each tiny detail is woven into an arresting sonic tapestry full of complementary threads. Their allotted time may have been understandably brief but it wound up feeling like one of the more complete sets of the year.

Perfect Pussy were next to take the stage and, despite sounding near-perfect in the soundcheck, wound up running into some apparent mixing problems. Not that it mattered, though. The band’s made a habit out of turning even the worst situations into something unforgettable. So, while Shaun Sutkus’ synths were pushed so far up that they were overwhelming just about everything else, the band played with their trademark fervor. That passion for performing is one of the biggest reasons this band’s celebrated so frequently here and, to her credit, Graves gave the absolutely packed crowd her all, even while being more inaudible than usual- to the point of leaving some of her blood on the floor (and earning several scratches on her hands). All thing considered, it stood as another display of breathtaking fierceness from a band that refuses to quit, no matter the circumstance.

Deafheaven were the headliners for the evening and their set leaned heavily on the monumental Sunbather, one of the only records to draw as much criticism from genre elitists as Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love, making comfortable bedfellows out of an otherwise curiously unusual pairing. They didn’t waste their time- or position- as headliners, they filled their set with as much material as possible. At least one new song was played that seemed to advance the transition Sunbather represented for them. Vocalist George Clarke, clad in all black, commanded attention with ease, frequently going in and out of the crowd- occasionally crowdsurfing in a corpse-like position (and it’s worth noting that every move felt organic rather than rehearsed). “Dream House” was one of several assured high points by virtue of being a moment that featured atmospheric crescendos hitting a note near the euphoric. By the time they were loading their equipment off-stage, they’d given the audience just about everything they could, bringing the first night in Chicago to a successful close.

Photographs of the evening can be seen below.

Perfect Pussy at Soybomb HQ – 6/21/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

Cellphone V

While NXNE provided a lot of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far this year, I’d be completely and totally remiss not to pay special attention to one of the non-festival shows: an absolutely stacked lineup flying under the Summer Melt banner and taking place in the middle of a halfpipe. Originally, the show (heavy on local Toronto acts) was going to be headlined by the Cleveland-based Pleasure Leftists– an incredibly casual last-minute offer allowed Perfect Pussy to step in literally hours beforehand as a secret headliner. To their credit, their secret remained a secret (unlike the Spoon debacle just a night before) and caught several attendees by surprise as they entered the venue (which had set times drawn up on a long sheet of paper and in plain sight). A late arrival meant missing a slew of talented bands including Wrong Hole, Das Rad, Toronto Homicide Squad, Petra Glynt, and Teenanger.

Even five bands in, the night was far from over. It didn’t take long for Cellphone (pictured above) to set up and it took even less time for them to impress. On record, the quartet emphasizes their roughness, eclecticism, and electronic leanings. Live? They explode with a fury worthy of the hardest-hitting bands of STT’s golden age. Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and (especially) Dinosaur Jr. all came to mind as apparent touchstones during different parts of their set, which stayed rooted in something totally intangible and unique to them. Hardcore influences and progressions cut apart riff-heavy melodicism and the band frequently sounds like they’re on the verge of spiraling out of control. It’s a controlled mania that had more than a few people shoving and dancing as hard as they possibly could by their set’s end. It was one of a very large handful of shows the band played throughout the NXNE dates and the practice showed- the end result was the best set of the trip from a band I’d previously never heard of.

Toronto’s Ice Cream may not have had the blinding energy of Cellphone but they certainly weren’t lacking in intrigue. The band’s a very minimalist post-punk act made up of nothing more than vocals, bass, a very occasional guitar, and synth. While they were stealthily making their way through their set (and the bottom of a bottle of liquor), they ran a bubble machine to its dregs. A little more than halfway through their set, a very-probably-inebriated audience member kept trying (and partially succeeding) at getting the bubbles back up and running, as the band played on, relatively amused and unconcerned. Most of their set hinged on bright melodies and pop-leaning basslines but when they deviated away from this, especially towards the end of their set, they found new life and hit new peaks. When their set finally wound down, they’d succeeded in creating an impression while simultaneously leaving the space wide-open for Pleasure Leftists to do just about anything they wanted.

Pleasure Leftists took full advantage of what was essentially a new slate after Ice Cream wound things down. After a string of strong releases on Deranged Records, the Cleveland band was in rare form, which was likely in part to the excessive amount of touring they’ve been doing lately. They’ve sharpened their brand of brooding post-punk and the fangs  that they’ve grown along with it. While the whole band is incredibly formidable in their respective roles and fully capable of creating towering soundscapes of tension-filled dread, vocalist Haley Morris still stands out. Onstage, Morris is a force to be reckoned with; a constant- and constantly expressive- larger-than-life presence. Pouring an endless supply of nervous energy and pure feeling into her delivery, Morris commands attention so completely that it occasionally runs the risk of losing track of what’s happening around her- don’t make that mistake. Pleasure Leftists’ instrumentalists are so well-versed in post-punk that on first listen someone could easily mistake them for a long-lost 70’s UK band that split small club bills with Warsaw. Their set was everything anyone could hope for and was rousing enough to leave the audience absolutely stunned. Everything that Pleasure Leftists are currently doing is clicking so neatly into place that it’s impossible to expect their trajectory to stabilize in anything other than ascension.

Finally, at a time roughly between 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., Perfect Pussy had set up and was off with their usual intensity. It’s no secret how I feel about this band and this won’t be the last time I write about them- or come even remotely close. I have made my feelings about them very public on multiple occasions and will continue to do so- because they are firmly rooted in all of the ethos that I believe in. Morality, integrity, independence, acceptance, and a commitment to DIY are all present in both their music and their interview. Vocalist Meredith Graves, in particular, has been very vocal about things that people need to start being more vocal about (and almost all of them are extensions of basic human kindness, compassion, and empathy). I would probably know next to none of this if I hadn’t been absolutely blown away by their 2013 demo I have lost all desire for feeling and made it a point to get as close to the band, who were making music I loved so fiercely and championing ideals I so firmly believed in, as I possibly could. It’s been a downright honor to watch the public interest in them skyrocket since the release of that demo and when Say Yes to Love came out, it made them feel revelatory all over again.

As with any band experiencing success, this meant seeing the venues housing them gradually grow- and the tickets fly much faster than they used to. So, when Graves pulled me aside after their Great Hall appearance for a beer at a Toronto bar to catch up and explain the events of the previous night, I was already on a barely-contained adrenaline rush. When we were interrupted by a guy offering to add Perfect Pussy onto an already-stacked bill that was being topped by Pleasure Leftists in a halfpipe in the middle of the night, all I could do was look at a noticeably excited Graves and hope she’d say yes. After all the details got figured out, it became evident fairly quickly that this was probably going to be the show that I remembered most from the Toronto stay. A band I’d loved and been chomping at the bit to see for the longest time (Pleasure Leftists) playing in a small, DIY space with who is arguably my favorite band of the moment playing after them as a secret headliner? With local support to top everything off, it seemed fail-proof. It was. Even though the late slot meant playing to an exhausted/subdued crowd, when Perfect Pussy tore into their set, it finally felt like they were at home. It was the exact kind of space that the band has fostered mutually symbiotic relationships with- even as their stature would suggest they’ve outgrown them.

It felt like a subtle, extraordinary moment and it was a privilege to be there to witness something like that happen. Even though the band’s set was abbreviated (even for them), it still hit with the force of an all-out military strike and the band laid just about everything they had on the line. Drummer Garrett Koloski was simultaneously battling to keep his kit upright and continuing to beat the living shit out of it- bassist Greg Ambler was tapping into an inward violence- guitarist Ray McAndrew was thrashing about more spiritedly than ever- synth/noise artist Shaun Sutkus was tucked away in the back, occasionally letting the music move him into making frantic body motions- and vocalist Meredith Graves (easily one of the finest bad leaders that this generation’s produced) commanding as much attention as humanly possible without being consumed by the din around her. All of the songs they played that evening were initially written down on a sheet of paper, cut into ribbons, and placed in a hat where the setlist was drawn out of- with the exception of one, which McAndrew took it upon himself to launch into, without warning, adding an element of surprise for both the audience and his bandmates. That moment was the only sly sidestep in an otherwise pulverizing, straightforward set that re-confirmed Perfect Pussy as one of the most entertaining live bands currently playing shows. By the time “Advance Upon the Real” wound down into Sutkus’ noise epilogue, they’d provided the evening with enough punch and verve to ensure that it wouldn’t be an evening that anyone who was present for it forget about it anytime soon. It didn’t feel like they’d officially arrived; it felt like they’d arrived home.

The photo gallery of this show can be accessed by clicking the link below. Beneath that link is a video of Perfect Pussy ending their set with “Advance Upon the Real”.

Soybomb HQ (Photo Gallery)

NXNE: Day 4 + 5 (Review, Photos)

Courtney Barnett XIV

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Once again, apologies are necessary for the long drought of material. I have been organizing, writing, shooting, editing, and attending more events than usual. This has taken up a considerable amount of time but Heartbreaking Bravery hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, most of it has been for the site and will be posted about shortly. Full attention will return shortly and regular posting will resume along with it.]

NXNE is now more than a month in the past but it’s difficult not to keep returning to those shows. The last two days of that Toronto trip were made up of some of the most explosively visceral and gratifying shows anyone could possibly ask for. Two of those shows won’t be accounted for in this review as they weren’t official parts of the festival. Both shows will be given their own full reviews following everything here. Now that all of that’s out of the way, onto the shows themselves.

Day 4 of NXNE kicked off at Sonic Boom where noise/hardcore duo Creep Highway immediately set about providing as much sonic destruction as they possibly could. The duo, led by guitarist/vocalist Michael DeForge, played a fierce, ragged set that saw inflections of powerviolence weaving in and out of their songs. It was an arresting start and both DeForge and drummer Patrick Kyle looked exhausted, but happy, when the last bits of feedback were finally cut off. After happily enduring their onslaught, it was a mad dash over to The Great Hall for Perfect Pussy, looking to avoid another unfortunate situation.

Not two steps were taken into a crowded Great Hall before hearing Graves’ earnest “Hi, we’re Perfect Pussy” led the band straight into their usual chaos. Only this time, unlike the (admittedly mesmerizing) performance not even twelve hours prior, everything went off without a hitch. Their levels were mixed well, Graves’ confrontational pleading was audible, Greg Ambler’s bass- and bass amp- were both in tact, and the audience fed into the band’s energy with a strong display of their own. All of the usual highlights remained extraordinarily strong moments (“Interference Fits”, in particular- still as much of a contender for “song of the decade” as it’s ever been) and by the time Shaun Sutkus’ loops were turning into decays in the epilogue section of “Advance Upon the Real”, Graves was sitting onstage with her backpack, entranced by her bandmate, and looking deservedly pleased. All in all, it was over in about twenty minutes and wound up as another strong example of their live prowess.

After sticking around to hear a few enchanting songs from ANAIKA and leaving with Graves for a very revealing conversation about the previous nights events, it was off to the Ryerson University outdoor stage for an enchanting set from Frankie Cosmos. Graced with good weather and good sound, the young (and very prolific) singer-songwriter delivered each of her songs in high spirits to a small but appreciative crowd. Fan favorite “On the Lips” proved to be an easy high point; it’s as sweet and startling as it’s ever been. All of Cosmos’ bands played off her to near-perfection, each seeming like a natural extension of her songs themselves. By the end of the set, they were all miming their respective parts before falling down in a memorable bit of unassuming humor that wound up being the perfect capper to what was one of the festival’s most endearing performances.

When Frankie Cosmos’ set had come to a close, it was difficult to keep up (any serious festival attendee or reporter will attest to how exhausting the most extensive can be) so there was a dead-zone until Swearin’ took things over at Smiling Buddha. After dealing with some unfortunate mixing situations the previous night, it was a thrill that bordered on catharsis to enter a venue and hear the band in fine form, mixed to perfection. Once again, they offered up an incredibly balanced set that had clear highlights in particularly fiery renditions of “What A Dump”, “Dust in the Gold Sack”, and “Movie Star”. By the time their set had drawn to a close, they’d thrown down the perfect reminder of why they’ve earned so much critical adoration and fan loyalty. Swearin’ are one of the best bands out there- not an easy claim to make, but an impossible one to ignore after seeing a set like that one. A perfect way to end the official festival portion of Day 4.

Day 5 would be split between two venues and only one of them was an official NXNE showcase, which is why this is being included here instead of given separate billing. That showcase took place, once more, at Sonic Boom (and was graciously hosted by the inimitable Chart Attack– who had hosted the previous day as well). It began with a rousing set from one of Australia’s finest exports, Courtney Barnett. An early crowd had formed for the on-the-rise artist and Barnett delivered the way she always does; with warmth, grace, and an endless supply of smiles. No one in the band seemed able to contain their happiness or gratitude and were even smiling through their technical difficulties (which were expertly maneuvered into noise sections that fit the songs so perfectly that it almost felt like they should be integral parts of the band’s sound/records). It was a surprisingly ragged set (made even more ragged by Barnett’s virtue of refusing to use a pick) that sounded as blissed-out as the band looked, even in some fairly startling heaviness the band’s adopted into their palette. Everything about Barnett’s set pointed to one thing: her name isn’t one that will be disappearing anytime soon.

Local band Army Girls‘ bluesy post-punk leanings were next to be featured and the duo lived up to the promise of their recordings. It was one of their first appearances in a while and if there was any rust, it didn’t show. Between seriously impressive displays of fretwork and control from guitarist/vocalist Carmen Elle and drummer Andy Smith, Elle would offer up some biting banter before launching into the next song. Nearly everyone in Sonic Boom couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of them; even Courtney Barnett was dancing in between the aisles and shouting between-song encouragement. She wasn’t alone. Army Girls’ set had an even, practiced feel to it that warranted both attention and investment. If this band ever decides to make a serious run, it’ll be one to keep both eyes on. That their set was the last official NXNE showcase to be taken in felt appropriate; it was another perfect example of the independent spirit that the festival built itself on- and of the city that hosted it. Here’s to NXNE XX- and here’s to looking forward to the 21st installment.

The photo galleries of both days can be accessed below.

NXNE: Day 4 (Photo Gallery)
NXNE: Day 5 (Photo Gallery)

NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)

Perfect Pussy XLV

This was it; this was every single reason I came to NXNE. A band that means so much to me that I refuse to write about them from my usual distant vantage point headlining a bill stacked full of personal favorites. A finale where vocalist Meredith Graves, whom I love dearly and have called the patron saint of this site, shed her skin so completely that you could see her soul. A set that literally set an amp head on fire. A split crowd that was as violent as it was enchanted; both sides frozen to their spot, shouting out insults or silently praying for the well-being of Graves as she sank to the floor, adjusting the microphone with her. A bass that was split in half over the knee of Greg Ambler, broken out of frustration, regret, and helplessness.  A kiss on the cheek. A small but meaningful exchange several minutes before the chaos that Perfect Pussy has so capably controlled in the past finally reared its head and did its best to consume them; the unfailing resilience of three people desperate to fight back. A fierce performance that turned into an unforgettable event. A religious experience.

Nearly all of that happened in the band’s final ten minutes and that was nearly every participant’s takeaway. Accusations started rolling in almost as soon as the band was forcefully escorted off of the stage by the same staff that refused to help them when their bass amp finally gave out. “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band”, “the singer can’t handle pressure”, “that fucking sucked”, “this is exactly what happened at the bridge a few months ago at SXSW”. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong again. I’ll get to all of that in a moment but not before I get to what nearly everyone writing about this has seemingly forgotten: prior to that point, while still struggling with some sound issues (most notably bass and vocal levels), Perfect Pussy was careening headlong into their set and had whipped an audience- that had previously been almost uniformly gentle- into an outright frenzy. Bruises, cuts, and blows were given and earned at roughly the same rate. No one had any intention of stopping as the band, as they do at their best, ceased resembling a band and instead became more reminiscent of a white-hot wrecking ball. All of the songs came at a blink-and-it’s-gone clip, one after another: “Driver”, “Bells”, “Work”, “Big Stars”, each song inciting a new aggressive push in the audience- and in the band.

Then, everything was broken wide open; smoke started emanating from the bass head as the circuitry caught fire, a visibly shaken Graves looked out into a spot of nothingness and repeated “I don’t know how to ask for help”. A guitar that was re-purposed as a bass was split over a knee and handed off to a hungry audience (the instrument was no big loss- Ambler hadn’t expected it to last the weekend). Then, a few moments of confusion passed, looks were exchanged, and without warning Graves, drummer Garrett Koloski, and noise extraordinaire Shaun Sutkus all started to sink their teeth in as Ambler and guitarist Ray McAndrew exited the stage. What, just moments ago, had been an explosive set was now taking on new life as performance art.

It didn’t take long for the jeering to begin: every variation of “you suck” and “get off the stage” were directed at the surviving trio. Most damningly, though, was the repeated chant of “fuck off and go die”. Initially, after hearing Graves’ exhaustion in a short exchange before their set, I was filled with concern for my friend as I watched her tremble, on the verge of tears, before her exaggerated breathing fell in line with the rhythmic propulsion provided by Koloski and Sutkus. As Graves seemed to pull herself further inward, she began to fall into a quiet desperation and began repeating the mantra of “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” (this same mantra is buried within the recesses of “VII”, the outstanding album-closer from Say Yes to Love). As this was happening, I stopped taking pictures. I considered jumping the edge of the stage to embrace my friend (a few of the people attending this with me urged me to do the same); someone who I was convinced was on the verge of a complete breakdown. My feet were cemented to the spot, I’m not sure I could have moved if I had tried.

Then, it clicked. I saw something in Graves’ eyes- a certain determination that is unique to her. It’s that same determination that’s helped make her one of the most compelling performers of this generation (a claim I don’t make lightly and one I’ve firmly believed since well before our first few talks). After receiving that small reassurance, I pulled my camera back out and began documenting- still concerned but no longer overcome with fear and anxiety. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a pool of silenced onlookers and unfiltered vitriol; the critical-commercial contrast of Perfect Pussy come to complete and total fruition. That contrast is one of the things that drove me to the band in the first place, two extremes so vocally present in two separate mediums: the content of the article vs. the comments section. Only that night, the two audiences that stood in contrast to each other weren’t critics and readers; it was the actual audience vs. the band itself. And all of the sudden, that mantra “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” took on a new, layered meaning.

The five qualities contained in that mantra are the five you’re supposed to live without. It’s a philosophy that Graves has embraced- only on the night of June 20, 2014, she got hung up on one: regret. Graves would eventually break the mantra to repeat “regret’ over and over, taking as few breaths as possible. I would find out later, as she repeated the word each time, she was crawling back into her past and doing her best to address and forgive all of the regrets that she was still clinging to. Reality began to flirt with art once more and a newfound sadness crept into Graves’ repetitions. As each breath became shorter, each new face inflected with more pain, and each word grew more impassioned, the microphone was drawn closer to the floor. A few minutes into this brutally rigorous self-examination, the moment took hold of Graves and the weight of it drove her incrementally down until, finally, she was kneeling on the stage, flush, short of breath, a few tears escaping, and doing her best to manage her demons.

In those moments, everything around me felt quiet, even though the chants continued. Graves didn’t have that luxury; she instead chose to fixate on that harrowing “fuck off and go die” chant coming from at least one person. “Fuck off and go die”. “Fuck off and go die”. “FUCK OFF AND GO DIE.” Each new iteration was what Graves chose to take from the audience in front of her- and she obliged it. Graves would steal me away for a beer and talk about this at length the next day, which is a conversation where I’d learn new lengths of her empathy and understanding: “Fuck off and go die?” “Okay, if you want to see me die, I’ll destroy myself in front of you. Maybe then you’ll finally find some happiness.” This, in a nutshell, is one of the strongest reasons for my celebrations of Perfect Pussy. That dedication to compassion for all sides, a trait exhibited most strongly by Graves and adamantly reinforced by the best of the band. There’s an earnest quality to Perfect Pussy that stands in direct opposition to the apathy so prevalent in music earning acclaim today. This performance, more than any other offering the band has given, cemented their conviction.

Graves would later go on to say that during her reactionary exchange with the bold heckling, she couldn’t stop thinking of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović- her piece “Rhythm 0” in particular- and it’s hard to blame her. The parallels that she’s had to endure are eerily similar; it’s never easy to be subjected to a public trial when more than half of the audience seems intent on doing their best to make you aware that they can end you. I’ve been back to Perfect Pussy’s performance in my head time and time again, each time with a little more contextual information. Nothing can ever fully duplicate what it was like watching everything unfold but each revisit’s provided at least one more new answer or one more stray thought. My certainty about some aspects increases while my curiosity about the rest of it grows exponentially.

At least those accusations that were quoted above can all be dealt with simply: “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band?” No, Ambler’s “hissy fit” wasn’t pure impulsion; everyone in the band had done all they could to warrant attention to some potentially venue-threatening problems, he did what was quite literally one of the only things that they could have done to finally get it. “The singer can’t handle pressure?” No. That’s what most of this piece has been about; it’s also worth noting that I shared a few words with a guitarist from The Kickback, who had come for Spoon but secured a spot for Perfect Pussy, who may have put it most adeptly: “I loved it. It was in your face and you just had to deal with it. They made you deal with it. It was what punk’s supposed to be.” Ambler’s bass-breaking was certainly a far cry from his flinging a previous bass off a bridge in Austin during SXSW– while it’s true both instances were motivated in part by frustration and both took place at music festivals, that’s literally their only connecting threads. “That fucking sucked?” I know I can’t definitively state whether something’s good or bad- but I will do my best to argue that particular assumption every time I come across it.

One part that keeps haunting me, no matter how many angles I approach it from, is how the set ended. It didn’t end on the artist’s terms and felt like a total violation of artistry in general. It was the pinnacle of an evening that was full of behind-the-scenes hostility. Whether it came from ill-mannered heckling, whether it came from a beer being literally grabbed out of one of the previous performer’s hands backstage by the crew that was on hand for the evening, by the (likely unintentionally) overbearing nature of the marketing campaign to let just about anyone know that Spoon was the “secret” headliner well before doors, and the ever-present corporatization of a lineup full of artists that do their best to champion independent ideals. Then, in a final egregious public manifestation, that hostility took on its most present form by way of NXNE security marching onstage to remove the three remaining members of Perfect Pussy by force.

First they came to Sutkus, who looked at them with some disbelief, heard something and shook his head “no” before wordlessly exiting the stage; Koloski followed roughly the same routine while throwing his hands up in mild disgust. I’d find out later that they were both asked to escort the now crumpled-on-the-floor Graves from her position at the microphone. They came for her last, as she was still shouting “regret”, visibly shaken and deep inside her own thoughts: “Regret!” “Regret!” “Re-GRET!” “REGRET!” ringing out more clearly than ever, now with no synthesizers to back it- only some light, propulsive drumming. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, more furiously than ever. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, on its own, with only jeers and stunned, apprehensive silence serving as the backdrop. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGR-“. A hand on the shoulder, a look up, a sad acceptance. A snapped trance. A return to real life with a new lease. A stunned audience.

And then, as Graves was being forcibly helped off the stage by the same staff that refused to help her when she needed it, she flashed a bleary smile, in one final and defiant act of heartbreaking bravery.

All I could do was applaud.

An extensive photo gallery of this set can be accessed here.

Soybomb HQ: Cellphone, Ice Cream, Pleasure Leftists, Perfect Pussy (Photo Gallery)

hbb10

A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Neither of the final two galleries (Soybomb HQ and Smiling Buddha) were part of NXNE- but both were definite highlights. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.

NXNE Day 4: Creep Highway, Perfect Pussy, Frankie Cosmos, Swearin’

hbb27

A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.