Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Joe Steinhardt

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Isabel Reidy)

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Troll, Isabel Reidy’s first EP under the Izzy True moniker, was a record I found myself returning to countless times throughout the course of 2015. For whatever reason, those six songs wound up resonating fairly heavily and it was impossible to escape their grasp. Part of it may be that Reidy’s brand of songwriting is so distinctively plaintive but still manages to contain multitudes of acutely realized personal discoveries; it boldly eschews trends and embraces flaws. Incredibly well-versed and ceaselessly intriguing, it’s rewarded every return visit, continuously unfurling its own peculiar world. Reidy maintains full creative control for the piece below as well, recalling the tour stop that served as the introduction to the music of Bryan Reynolds. It’s a fascinating account of the type of moment that makes getting two hours of sleep a night for a few weeks straight completely worthwhile. Read it below and  go looking for your own story from the road sometime soon.

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Early this spring my buddy Joe (Modern Hut) and I played a show in Providence, RI. It was the final night of a little weekend tour we’d been on. We had just lost almost all of our gas money somewhere between Brooklyn and Rhode Island because Joe said, “let’s go to the casino,” and I said “okay, yes.” I said “okay, yes” because I am learning how to be a ROAD DOG and I believe that is how a ROAD DOG unwinds. Joe is a seasoned ROAD DOG with a deep, unwavering commitment to vice. He was teaching me all he knows. A ROAD DOG knows that throwing all of your money into the trash is a karmic investment towards your future, so it was no surprise that that evening ended up being a very special one. That was the night when we first saw Bryan Reynolds.

Bryan is a tall dude in his twenties with wide set eyes, an angular face, and a big mustache. He was dressed like a gym teacher going to church. It’s hard to remember exactly, but I think he wore a crisp pair of slacks, dress shoes, and a track jacket. There was an odd tension between the way he was dressed and his age- it reminded me of a time in high school when my friends and I shaved a bald spot into my friend’s head, dressed him up in my dad’s clothes, and made him try to buy us beer (mysteriously, this worked). His powers were immense- I could sense that immediately.

The show was held in a warehouse; lamp-lit, vast, and populated with couches in various states of dankness. We drank the $1 tequila and something-or-others from plastic cups while the first band played their numerous instruments for a small eternity. Towards the end of their set I crept into the kitchen to write a set list. There was the mustachio’d Bryan and his personal bottle of whiskey, doing the same. I peeked at his list. Some song titles I remember: “I Smoked Pot”, “Mr. Good-times-roll”, the mysterious “Cucumbers(?)”, and “King of the Road”. I have loved Roger Miller since I was a child. Good omens. My childhood friend who I hadn’t seen in years was there, evidently Bryan was his roommate at the time. Good omens.

There were about ten people at the show, not including the bands, certainly including the people who lived in the space. This was about the speed of all of the shows on that tour. I played. Applause, milling about. Joe played. Applause, milling about. Out came Bryan. He pulled a child sized classical guitar out of a brown paper Stop ‘n’ Shop bag and proceeded to play one of the best shows I have ever seen.

There is no way I can adequately describe what happened that night. So much about the show, when reduced to words could sound calculated, but Bryan’s spirit is pure. I’m certain of that. His songs are deceptive simplicity, but he is an extremely skilled musician. He sings with a rich, clear, tenor croon. Lyrically, he’s cruising at Michael Hurley’s altitude- in terms of performance, he is a spooky Jonathan Richman. For the record, those are my two favorite musicians of all time.

I remember when he busted into “I Smoked Pot” his voice warbled and quivered and peeled out beautifully. When he pulled out a little doo-wop “shoop-shoop-shoop” I had to work very hard not to laugh. Bryan delivered those scat lines with such sincerity that it wasn’t clear whether laughter would be appropriate. I ended up with ache-y smile face. At one point during the set Bryan seemed to get stuck on one chord- he played it over and over and over, eyes closed, rocking back and forth.

He did this for what was probably about five minutes.

It got to the point where I thought he might actually be having some kind of seizure or stroke. I felt genuine fear. I thought about calling an ambulance. Suddenly, seamlessly, he jumped right back into the song. Joe and I kept turning to each other and exchanging “Is this really happening???” faces.

The set ended with “Black Magic”. Bryan was joined by compatriot Adam Souza who was playing the Otamatone, an anthropomorphic musical note shaped instrument which sounds like a ghost type Pokémon dying. Everyone in the crowd knew the words and sang in three-part harmony. I felt like I had stepped into some alternate universe where this guy was a huge celebrity, or a religious figure (or something).

A really talented performer has the ability to transform the atmosphere of a place. The space that Bryan created that night was tense and immense. I know all of this sounds completely hyperbolic, but I really mean it. I walked away feeling deeply confused about the world, like maybe it had been some elaborate prank. I couldn’t tell what was real. That show changed the way I look at performance. I didn’t know it could be so much. Me and Joe have been talking about it ever since. If you are ever in Providence, you have to see this dude.

-Isabel Reidy

Tenement – Dull Joy (Stream)

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Predatory Highlights. June 2. Doon giovanni Records. We’ll get to all of this shortly but first, a recap, as it’s been some time since the last non-Watch This post ran on this site. Coming up over the next few days will be a run of songs and videos focusing on some of the best of what’s emerged since the start of this month. Each of the highlighted songs will come equipped with no less than 10 others worth hearing in the accompanying post(s). Up first: “Idiot“, an extraordinary laid-back basement pop tune from Dustin Lovelis’ upcoming Dimensions. There was also the The Go! Team’s revitalized, energetic “Ye Ye Yamaha“, Torres’ unpredictably frenetic “Cowboy Guilt” (furthering Sprinter‘s album of the year potential), PINS’ jaunty “Young Girls“, and Blonde Elvis’ fired up powerpop gem “Oh Mary“. To top everything off there was Fraternal Twins’ slow-burning “Skin Gets Hot“, The Japanese House’s hypnotic “Sister“, KEN Mode’s furious “These Tight Jeans“, No Joy’s hazy “Moon In My Mouth“, and The Lagoonas’ fiery basement punk gut-punch, “Color Spectrum“. While, as always, every single one of these tracks is worthy of a high investment level, the headline goes to a band that’s now intrinsically tied to this site: Tenement.

Before diving into the dissection of yesterday’s big news surrounding the band’s upcoming release, it’s worth noting (on a very personal level) that in my time writing, few things have meant more to me than being able to contribute a piece for the zine insert that came equipped with Bruised Music: Volume 1, the band’s collection of earlier material that came out last month. Tenement are a band that have meant varying degrees to various people but they’ve managed to affect my life for what’s nearing ten years through both their music and their continued kindness. I grew up alongside their progression and they’re directly responsible for introducing me to the greater DIY scene that this site was built to celebrate (which is a space that may not even exist without that influence). They’re the first band I can remember booking and they’re a band I’ve been referring to as “Wisconsin’s best band” since the first time I saw them live- so, naturally, their upcoming record’s been one I’ve been tracking closely. Yesterday, the trio blew the lid off of that record- which has been meticulously shaped over the course of the past three years- via a typically incredible AV Club premiere that came loaded with details.

Predatory Highlights will be released on June 2 via the band’s (relatively) new home, the increasingly vaunted Don Giovanni Records. It will be a double-album. It’s set to contain both the band’s towering pop sensibilities that Napalm Dream zeroed in on while also accentuating the curious experiments that provided Blind Wink with an immediate cult classic aesthetic. In short, Predatory Highlights will be the band’s most ambitious- and most visible- release to date. Kicking off its campaign with a track as immensely accessible as “Dull Joy” is a brilliant strategic move as it encapsulates the band’s most immediate elements while hinting at the stranger terrain they’re capable of covering. As much as ever, guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch is in fine form both lyrically and musically- the song structure’s bold, the chord progressions are thrillingly inventive, and the lyric copy still reads like classic, downtrodden Americana.

While most of it will strike listeners who are familiar with the band as vintage Tenement, they still find room for a curveball- and that moment provides “Dull Joy” it’s most exhilarating moment. After the band locks into its standard basement pop/hardcore/power punk groove, they launch into a bridge that goes into full-blown r&b/pop mode, complete with falsetto. For any other band, a moment that conventional would seem rote but here, it adds a new dimension to the band’s already staggering depth. Accentuating the impact of Pitsch’s characteristically brilliant turn-in is yet another formidable display of intuitive talent from the band’s rhythm section- bassist Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer- which remains one of the best currently operating. Everything comes together on “Dull Joy” to not only prove that Tenement’s continuously raising their own otherwise unreachable bar but that they’ve also still got plenty of tricks up their sleeves. It may still be early and this may be the very first glimpse of Predatory Highlight but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Tenement could have a future classic on their hands with what looks to be a monumental release. If it doesn’t wind up near the very top of this site’s Albums of the Year list when December rolls around, no one will be more surprised than me.

Listen to “Dull Joy” below and pre-order Predatory Highlights from Don Giovanni here.