Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Interference Fits

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.

CMJ: Day 2 Review

IMG_9109

To get this straight, right off the bat: CMJ’s second day of festivities was the first day I participated in the proceedings so the title from this point forward will be reflective of the official festival dates and, due to the timely nature of the visual edits that something of this magnitude necessitates, there will be additional supplementary material to this post (and all of the forthcoming review posts) in the near-future.

The very first band I saw at CMJ wasn’t actually a band that I saw play; The Midwestern Charm were in town from Milwaukee, WI and deserve another mention in this space because, despite my best efforts, there level of press/exposure is still lacking (though their recent deal with Texas Is Funny is helping make some amends). After a brief hangout stint in the Artist’s Lounge and at a pizza place, I hopped a train to The Cake Shop where I’d hoped to catch the final two acts. Unfortunately, site favorites Diet Cig had just wrapped when I arrived. Balancing that misfortune out was the fact that I still arrived in time to catch all of Worriers’ set, a band I’ve attempted (and subsequently failed) to see at least five times over the past few months.

Worriers packed in a lot of material from their recent effort for Don Giovanni, Imaginary Life, including their career highlight “They/Them/Theirs“, which was an easy set highlight as well. Immediately after their set, which packed enough power to be memorable, I made the walk over to Santos Party House for NME’s unbelievably stacked showcase. As soon as I managed to sneak past security and into the venue before doors were opened, I linked up with Perfect Pussy, who have meant an extraordinary amount to both myself and this site (they can be at least partially credited for its existence).

I’d initially planned on attempting to catch every act on the bill but the prospect of a trip out to Chinatown with Perfect Pussy and a photographer from The Village Voice (who was dutifully shooting the evening’s events for the publication) proved too tantalizing. After sipping tea and watching everyone devour some dim sum, everyone made the trek back to the venue. The rest of the evening was spent running up and down a flight of steps separating two rooms that were hosting alternating sets.

Hooton Tennis Club were first up on the upstairs stage and managed to make a strong impression by virtue of stage presence and some genuinely catchy songs that skew heavily towards powerpop but have enough punk bite to avoid being pigeonholed into the genre. Car Seat Headrest were the next featured band and, riding a massive swell of buzz on the back of their deal with Matador, had a lot of expectations to meet and surpass. They mostly succeeded but were hampered early on by some strange sound issues. Everything had been resolved by the end of their set, which harbored enough heat to justify the intimidating amount of hype.

Well before Car Seat Headrest had wrapped their set, Seratones had kicked off what seemed to be a powerhouse set on the upstairs stage. Infusing blues, soul, and a healthy portion of straight rock n’ roll, the band came off as a towering force. Comparisons to Alabama Shakes seem inevitable but most will likely seem a little misguided. In any case, as soon as this band’s name starts circulating on a larger scale, they’ll be coveted by festivals and a frighteningly large army of people. As soon as the band closed their set, it was back down to watch Nico Yaryan take a considerable amount of time to set up before riding a few overwhelmingly pleasant songs into the territory of an oddly disjointed sleepiness.

Yaryan’s indie-folk outlier set warranted a return visit to the upstairs stage, where Yung kept my attention rapt by pouring everything they had into a ferocious set of hardcore-leaning basement punk numbers that was at least somewhat reminiscent of NE-HI, albeit a version of NE-HI that was a lot more pissed off. It was the perfect antidote to the preceding proceedings and acted a desperately-needed shot of adrenaline. Shopping (UK) kept that energy going downstairs with a set of minimal post-punk that had a lot of people dancing (myself included). Every song in the band’s catalog is deceptively complex but the band delivers everything with ease (and occasionally throw in a wink or a smile for good measure).

Protomartyr has been picking up all kinds of acclaim for their latest release and a hint of furthered confidence could be evidenced in the band’s characteristically deadpan presence. All of the new songs immediately stood out as highlights and kept a growing audience incredibly engaged (of the three times I’ve seen Protomartyr, this crowd was the most appreciative by far). Before their set ended, it was back to the stairwell for the umpteenth trip down the same flight of stairs to (finally) catch Downtown Boys.

While I’m still lukewarm on their recorded material, the band’s a juggernaut live. Vocalist Victoria Ruiz comes off like a vigilante dictator, espousing rousing political speeches about broken systems between songs (speeches that often serve as extended introductions to the song) before the very talented band finally joins her explosion. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy only a few songs in, which was my cue to run upstairs to catch Perfect Pussy.

As mentioned above, this site has a long history with the band (it was built primarily as an outlet for me to have a place to interview the band’s vocalist, Meredith Graves, who quickly became the patron saint of this place by featuring it in any way she could whenever she was given the opportunity). Even with that history running deep, I’d never seen the band play without their synth player, Shaun Sutkus. Sutkus was away on business (he’s still very much a part of the band, so rest easy, concerned parties) but everyone else was present and ready to go.

The band delivered a typically blistering set that included a new song entitled “The Women” that was written as a sort of pro-Planned Parenthood war cry. It was one of the first glimpses at the band’s new material, which they’re justifiably excited about releasing. Seemingly nothing but left turns, stop/start dynamics, and a variety of other compelling tricks, “The Women” is one of the most fascinating things that Perfect Pussy have ever played to an audience. While it didn’t quite get the roaring reception of “Interference Fits“, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s well on its way.

As soon as Perfect Pussy started winding down, I made a beeline for the basement to see a band I’ve waited nearly two years to see: site favorites Dilly Dally. Playing to a crowd at around one in the morning can be a difficult prospect, especially when you’re already dealing with the pressures that accompany having one of the most celebrated records of the moment. Throw in my own personal feelings about the band and the anxiety levels were high; could they live up? Dilly Dally responded by throwing down a monstrous set that exceeded the confines of the festival and quickly registered as one of the best sets of the year.

Every conceivable aspect of a live show was covered: the banter was entertaining, the band’s four members all fully committed to their stage presence, they conjured up a wall of sound that was enough to send shockwaves through my torso without ever having any sound issues, and at one point Katie Monks– the band’s vocalist/guitarist– got intense enough to break a string. Monks’ voice on its own is an incredibly powerful thing and she can wield it like a loaded weapon but when it’s supported the way it is by her bandmates, it becomes unforgettable.

By the end of Dilly Dally’s set, they’d played a handful of tracks from 2015 highlight Sore, “Candy Mountain“, and covered Drake with a surprising level of menace. It was a jaw-dropping set and provided the perfect note to end an opening day of showgoing. Unforgiving in its raw power and weirdly poetic nature, Dilly Dally’s performance set an unbelievably high bar and the rest of this week will be given an added element of intrigue: will anyone be able to top what they pulled off? It’ll be exciting to find out.

14 of ’14: The Best Songs of 2014

Mitski IV

While this may not be necessary at this point since it keeps being repeated, it’s worth stating anyway: “best”, in matters of year-end lists, isn’t made to be an objective statement- it’s a reflection of personal taste. For the year-end coverage period, I’ll also be abandoning the usual first person restrictions as another effort to further personalize these accounts and lists. In 2014, I listened to more music than I’ve ever listened to in my life. During that 365-day span, I mercilessly stalked a rotating cast of sites that posted new music on a near-daily basis. I kept up with NPR’s First Listen series, scoured bands’ schedules to see what other bands were on their shows, kept tabs on bills at venues I admired, and listened to every submission that was sent in to Heartbreaking Bravery. If a friend recommended me new music, I made sure it got heard. There were times when some larger fare would pull me in- especially if it was receiving good critical returns- but, for the most part, I made it a point to explore the smaller titles.

A few of the names on this list (and all of the others) may not necessarily be the most recognizable but don’t let the lack of recognition dissuade you from investment; let it actively encourage dividend-paying exploration. It was that decision to zero in on lesser known bands that started opening up endless hallways to music that may have otherwise stayed hidden. That’s the foundation that this site was built in and will always strive to encourage- which is part of the reason why these lists exist. Below are the 14 songs that hit me hardest throughout the past 12 months, rounded out by a top four that all deserve to be in the “Song of the Decade” conversation. I won’t be including an auxiliary list for the songs that were in consideration and didn’t make the cut this time around because, frankly, there are way too many (though I will say it’s still paining me to not be including Ought‘s “Today More Than Any Other Day“) and most of those selections’ respective titles are featured on the other lists that this site will be running (or has already run). Now that all that’s said and done, on to the list!

14. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

I’m Not Part of Me” has been making a dent in this site’s coverage ever since Cloud Nothings teased Here and Nowhere Else at Baby’s All Right. It’s in the realm of career best for a band who’s on their second destined-to-be-classic release. After the departure of Joe Boyer, it’s unlikely that anyone was expecting the band to grow even fiercer- yet, that’s exactly what they achieved. With melodic aplomb and hooks to spare (in addition to 2014’s finest individual turn-in from drummer Jayson Gerycz), the band responded by annihilating any of the barriers that transition left, with “I’m Not Part of Me” acting as their rousing call to arms.

13. Iceage – Against the Moon

Before “Against the Moon” was given one of the best music videos of the year, it was lingering on the outskirts of one of 2014’s most powerful albums: Plowing Into The Field Of Love. No song underlined Iceage’s startling transition with more emphasis than this somber piano and organ-driven ballad. Quietly intense and relentlessly haunting, “Against the Moon” became an immediate standout on an impossibly gripping record. It’s an entirely new look for Iceage, who embraced it fearlessly. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics, now laced with a noticeable Southern Gothic Americana influence, acted as the perfect complement to a spare, boldly atmospheric track- which was easily one of the year’s strongest efforts.

12. Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn

Make Nice was one of the last truly great releases of 2014 but no moment on the record was as stunning as “Bartending At Silent Barn“. I’d known of Jeanette Wall through her involvement in Miscreant Records but nothing had prepared me for how effortlessly bracing her own songs could be. “Bartending At Silent Barn” starts out simply enough; clean, palm-muted guitar, a memorable melody, raz0r-sharp lyrics, and an immediately recognizable sense of identity. While it revels in defeatism for close to the entirety of its run, there comes a moment towards the end- a single laugh- that offers a pivotal change. In that laugh (which lasts less than a second), there’s a derision targeting the assumptions that everything’s as bleak as the song’s original narrative suggests but, after a very brief pause, the assuaging declaration that “things can change” comes to a stunning fruition with one of the most life-affirming outro sections I’ve ever heard.

11. Charly Bliss – Love Me

There are times where all it can take is one song for me to be absolutely convinced by a band. “Love Me”, a song that was also my introduction to Charly Bliss, is definitely that kind of song. With an endless amount of charm and appeal, Charly Bliss conjured up a firestorm of a tune that immediately catapulted them into “new favorite band” territory. The tempo changes and stop/start dynamics in the jaw-dropping pre-chorus and chorus sections practically lay everything on the line; for the first time in a while, it sounds like a (relatively) new band is actively daring their listeners to get on their level. In terms of sound and genre, it’s a perfect bridge between basement pop and basement punk, existing in the dead center of the exact space that this site most frequently celebrates. Fiery, propulsive, and casually tantalizing, it’s easily one of my favorite things to emerge from an incredibly stacked year. Most impressively is that “Urge to Purge“, the song that follows it on the band’s extraordinary Soft Serve EP, was its biggest competition in securing a spot on this list- cementing 2014 as a statement year for one of the most exciting bands today.

10. Screaming Females – Wishing Well

Screaming Females have earned their fair share of coverage on this site by being so consistently excellent in their craft. They’re a band I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started playing shows in basements (a few of their BFG shows are among my favorite WI-based memories) and they haven’t stopped getting better in the years I’ve been following their progress. All of the years they’ve put into fierce touring (never once losing their DIY ethos) have been leading up to the release of their upcoming Rose Mountain, a surefire contender for 2015 Album of the Year. Currently 3 preview songs into the lead-up phase for the record’s release, none have been as powerful as the first official recording of “Wishing Well”, a perennial staple in their live set. Striking a perfect balance between punk grit and an uncharacteristically light pop sensibility, “Wishing Well” is ample proof of the band’s growing ambition and unwavering confidence. It’s also got a chorus for the ages, one even someone’s grandma could love.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – E.M.O.

Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s most unexpected surprises; a debut effort loaded with determination and personality. Up until “E.M.O.”, it’s an incredibly strong record but that song single-handedly breaks the floodgates wide open and elevates it to the heights of an unforgettable classic. It’s a song that hit me hard on my first listen and hasn’t left my thoughts- or my esteem- since that initial exposure. Easily the most vulnerable moment on a record that’s frequently on the offensive, it offers a voyeuristic glimpse of the mechanics driving Jawbreaker Reunion’s creative forces. “E.M.O.” also has an unexpectedly explosive chorus that lays waste to any harbored doubts about the band’s range. It’s one of the year’s more breathtaking musical moments and it ensures Jawbreaker Reunion’s status as an emerging force.

8. LVL UP – Big Snow

The four-song split between LVL UP, Ovlov, Krill, and Radiator Hospital would have likely topped this site’s best splits of the year list even if it hadn’t been grouped in with Ovlov’s other entries. A large reason behind that it LVL UP‘s “Big Snow”, a song that managed to stand out in the band’s catalog even taking the landmark achievement that was Hoodwink’d into account. “Big Snow“, the rare LVL UP song that features all three vocalists in the group, has been kicked around in some form or another since the band was writing demos for their debut full-length, Space Brothers. In its first release as “Big Snow”, though, it’s a stunner of a track, highlighted by the vocal exchanges and one of the year’s most blistering riffs. Everything lines up in a typically (compellingly) off-kilter way that accentuates the band’s innumerable rough-hewn charms. Constantly shifting and casually brilliant, it’s yet another indicator that LVL UP is one of the best bands currently making music.


7. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse

Another song to appear on a split with Ovlov (it’s literally impossible for me to overstate how incredible Ovlov’s splits were this year), “Year of the Sunhouse” was a career highlight for Little Big League, even taking their outstanding Tropical Jinx into consideration. It’s a song that stunned in a Watch This-approved segment and it’s only grown more appealing with time. Punchy and refined, it takes pinpoint aim and unloads, hitting an elusive target multiple times over. Led by powerhouse drumming and Michelle Zauner’s most ferocious lyrical and vocal outing to date, it’s a song that portrays Little Big League as a band who refuses to back down. As an additional bonus, it also features a second stanza that may very well be the year’s outright best, one that’s punctuated by a life-giving declaration.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning

It’s sincerely doubtful that there was a record in 2014 that was more emotionally charged than Cymbal Eat Gutars’ LOSE, which dealt heavily with the death of a friend. The way that difficult subject’s dealt with is a large part of the reason why the song and it’s accompanying music video earned so many kind words, which also factored into its placement as one of the best music videos of the year. Devastatingly heartfelt and heartbreaking in its vicious nature, it’s propped up by the year’s best single line in the chorus’ “the shape of true love is terrifying enough”. For all of the difficulties, there’s a subtle strain of hope that imbues “Warning”, rendering it a resounding statement of humanism. Deeply tragic and towering in scope, this is the kind of song that’s worthy of inspiring others to start making music on their own terms.

5. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs

“Cut Your Bangs” is a song that’s been kicking around on this site since its original bandcamp release. My personal pick for song of the summer, it’s an exacting look at the way Sam Cook-Parrott’s sense of damaged romanticism manifests in Radiator Hospital’s music. There’s an emphasis on the minutiae, every mundane bit is scrutinized and brought to the forefront. Poetic and unflinchingly honest, it’s put in sharp contrast by the music surrounding the story. There’s a swing-like feel to what’s happening in the background, lilting into a reassuring groove as the narrative grapples with everyday loss. Small lies add up to a mountain of mistrust but, if you’re lucky, your friends will always be there to back you up and convince you that everything’s okay.

4. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday

Very few songs have ever hit me as hard as “Doomsday”. It’s a personal best for Speedy Ortiz, which is no small claim, and very few songs this decade have come across so honestly. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal take for “Doomsday” is absolutely stunning, wounded and impassioned in equal measure; a desperate and veiled final cry searching for some form of absolution. An impossibly beautiful vocal melody and an atmospheric guitar section are subtly fierce grace notes in a song that sounds embattled and defeated. Released as part of the LAMC series (courtesy of Famous Class Records), it would have been more than enough to land the entry it was included on in the best splits of the year list. Weary and grasping at a sense of triumph, it’s a fascinating classic that deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in music.

3. Mitski – Townie

My relationship with Mitski’s music began with this song and that first listen remains one of my more memorable encounters with anyone’s music in 2014. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to film it twice: once in an intimate acoustic setting (for The Media) and once full-band (with Mitski backed by half of LVL UP). Even putting those personal moments aside, “Townie” was an immediate standout from what turned out to be one of the year’s strongest albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. For those who were fortunate enough to be aware of Mitski’s previous work, “Townie” was a sharp left turn for the enigmatic solo artist and it emphasized a growing certainty in her work. This was a hold-no-prisoners, everything out in the open type of track; a watershed moment for an artist whose career was set to skyrocket. By the time the theremin solo kicks in, everything’s already been set on fire and Mitski’s grinning to herself miles away from the maelstrom. A testament to self-reliance and utter conviction, “Townie” is a clarion call from an artist too important to be ignored.

2. Pile – Special Snowflakes

Pile’s Special Snowflakes 7″ just topped this site’s list for that category. No 7″ had a stronger single song A-side and no song managed to sink into my memory more than that song, “Special Snowflakes“. Pile have cultivated a cult following by refusing to adhere towards any one trend or another and instead opting to follow their own distinctly unique twists and turns. No song felt as monumental in 2014 as the band’s current crowning jewel, a seven minute battering ram of a track. Through a series of exhilarating peaks and crushing valleys, Pile manages to introduce an atmosphere that’s ferociously bleak, refusing to settle into one mode for too long. Pulverizing and epic, “Special Snowflakes” suggests that Pile’s operating at the height of their powers, which bodes well for their forthcoming full-length. It’s also another release that embodies everything great about Exploding in Sound Records and the vast number of reasons the label’s so frequently celebrated here. This is bold, inventive music that thrives on its own conviction, on its own terms, and will be remembered for leaving a trail of well-intentioned destruction in its wake.

1. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits

No band has been written about more on Heartbreaking Bravery than Perfect Pussy (a band I traveled considerable lengths to see eight times throughout the course of 2014). No song has meant more to me than “Interference Fits”. Putting aside the fact that vocalist Meredith Graves (who has somehow become this site’s patron saint and is still its sole interview subject) unexpectedly dedicated this song to me in Minneapolis, putting aside the fact that she cried in a comic book store after I alerted her to the fact that it had started streaming on NPR in advance of Say Yes to Love‘s release, and putting aside the fact that she used my original write-up as a reference point for hope, that statement would still hold true. “Interference Fits” soundtracked a lot of bigger moments for me in what was a very turbulent 2014 and the original connection I forged with the song only deepened as the year progressed. Fitting, since it’s a song about making and severing connections; Graves’ most personal outpouring to date. The lyrics, as always, are beyond stunning but the song wouldn’t be anywhere close to as unshakable as it is if it weren’t for Perfect Pussy’s most adventurous musical turn-in to date. Eschewing their normally blown-out mode in favor of something more subtle and restrained, “Interference Fits” proved that Perfect Pussy weren’t, as some naysayers originally suggested, a one trick pony. Easily the band’s most delicate and ornate offering to date, it retained their whirlwind intensity and cutthroat identity. Masterfully wielding a tension and explosion dynamic, “Interference Fits” lures listeners in with its first half before a measure of silence provides a foreboding warning to one of the most cathartic second acts in a song this decade; there’s as much narrative in the music as there is in the lyric set. With raw power lingering in the wings and at the heart of its diarist leader, Perfect Pussy created something that stung deep enough to leave a lasting, curiously endearing scar.

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.

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.

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.

Watch This: Vol. 30

Well, it finally happened. Waatch This is officially back on track and back to its regular every-Sunday rotation- and this week was particularly stacked. There was an incredible Serious Business feature from BreakThruRadio on Hive Bent, a beautiful Allston Pudding session with Saintseneca, and Mansions turned in what was arguably their best performance for an absolutely incendiary run for Little Elephant. None of them made this week’s installment. There were various reasons that kept each of them out and what wound up being featured was a fairly eclectic mix of full sets, single songs, old favorites, and at least one face that’s completely new to this site. So, sit back, relax, continue on with some day drinking, and Watch This.

1. Bob Mould – I Don’t Know You Anymore (The Current)

Bob Mould should be a household name by now. One of the most influential and well-respected songwriters to emerge from the 80’s/90’s DIY punk/hardcore heyday, he’s already amassed an army of untouchable classics that have his name on them and he’s in the midst of a staggering resurgence that’s currently seeing him match his past glory. Beauty & Ruin is one of 2014’s best and isn’t in danger of losing that position by year’s end. It’s driven by gems like “I Don’t Know You Anymore” which Mould recently deliver a commanding solo performance of for Minneapolis’ 89.3 The Current. That can be seen below.

2. Archie Powell & the Exports – Everything’s Fucked (Jam in the Van)

This isn’t the first time that this song’s appeared on this site and the feelings towards it haven’t changed. “Everything’s Fucked” is a song that aims to scorch the earth that surrounds it and shows a total disregard for anything attempting to get in its way. Here, the band delivers a fierce, ragged performance of it for Jam in the Van during their SXSW stay and hold absolutely nothing back. It’s a jolt of energy that’s strong enough to inject a jump-start into any dreary Sunday; keep it on file for those occasions.

3. Hop Along (unARTigNYC)

unARTigNYC is back in a big way this week: this is the first of three videos the channel posted that will be featured as the extended closing sequence for this week’s Watch This. Now, this will come with a touch of Deja Vu for any longtime readers of the site as Vol. 15 also featured a full Hop Along set that was also posted by unARTigNYC that was also captured at Saint Vitus. Lightning can strike twice. The only real differences are the sets and the fact that this was a Pitchfork showcase that also featured Pleasure Leftists, Frankie Cosmos, and the band occupying this installment’s fifth slot All of the new material Hop Along has been playing out is pointing towards one thing; whenever that record drops, it’s going to be a big deal that a lot of people will be very passionate about. Expect to see a stream of praise coming from sites like this one the moment that happens. For now, just enjoy the fact there are things like this out there to keep everyone excited (and deeply impressed).

4. Charles Bradley – The World Is Going Up In Flames (unARTigNYC)

Are there any stories in music from this decade more inspiring than the ascension of Charles Bradley? It’s sincerely doubtful. Plucked from obscurity during his days as a James Brown impersonator, he impressed all the right people and wound up signing a deal with Daptone Records, the most influential label in soul. Before that moment, and during the interim, the now-65 year old Bradley went through some extraordinarily harsh times. Almost dying and experiencing great personal tragedy didn’t deter him, though, and in 2011 his debut record No Time for Dreaming was met the same way his sophomore effort, 2013’s Victim of Love was: they both garnered immediate acclaimed and helped elevate Bradley to being one of the biggest names in his genre. Now affectionately known as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”, Bradley has greeted any kind of interest with overwhelming appreciation and humility. If there’s one thing to feel good about in music, it’s his success- a success driven by charisma and raw natural talent.

5. Perfect Pussy (unARTigNYC)

Perfect Pussy, the band whose name makes Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan blush every time she says it, headlined the recent Pitchfork showcase at Saint Vitus. They also now have a commanding lead as the band featured most on this site, which should mean that close to everything’s already been said about them here. While that might be the case, I’m not even close to done talking about Perfect Pussy and I doubt I’ll ever be. Part of the reason for this is their high-velocity live show. Each of their shows is its own beast, though they all seem to clock in at around 20 minutes, which are infused with the most blistering whirlwind of sound and unrepentant aggression anyone could imagine (this fact has caused a lot of confusion from people who aren’t familiar with hardcore and the people that don’t understand how quickly high-intensity physical exertion can lead to dangerous levels of exhaustion). Vocalist Meredith Graves greets the triviality of those complaints the only way she knows how: with a smile (for proof of this, check the :40 mark for a memorable quip). Her lyrics are some of the most unflinchingly honest I’ve ever encountered and, impossibly, stand as both a complement and contrast to the band’s performance. In prose, Perfect Pussy can come off as slightly withdrawn and full of guarded desperation- but even then, it’s so forward that it feels like that same gut-punch the live show so readily and consistently provides. Here, the band’s in fine form, Graves is the physical manifestation of an internal maelstrom or three; Shaun Sutkus project a steely, detached calm to provide some stability behind his setup of synths; the rhythm section of Greg Ambler and Garrett Koloski both make sure they’re as physically present as Graves is and guitarist Ray McAndrew keeps his head down while providing an additional thrashing body. If it sounds chaotic, it’s because it is- it’s also all so improbably controlled that it makes their sets unforgettable affairs- no matter how long or short they wind up being. Add all of these qualities to the fact that Graves is currently one of the most outspoken public figures in an ongoing fight against multiple kinds of oppression and Perfect Pussy winds up exactly where they should be: as one of the most important bands that we’ve got. See them (and support them) as soon as humanly possible.