Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: I Feel Extra-Natural

Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

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

lvlup

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.