Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: left-field pop

Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Album Review, Stream, Photos, Videos)

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Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek may very well be the year’s most stunning record. A bold lead-off sentiment, sure, but one that’s entirely warranted. Mitski’s first two records, LUSH and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, were carefully orchestrated records of an off-kilted brand of chamber pop, occasionally punctuated by shards of distorted aggression. Nearly all of it fit neatly into the traditional singer/songwriter confines while still revealing a noticeable streak of creative mischief. For her third record, Mitski’s gone and blown up her previous formula by stripping things back to their essentials and blowing them up with a madcap glee. It’s a template that serves as the formula for the strongest, boldest work of her career.

Townie” was the song to suggest that Mitski had created something truly powerful by proving the early promise of “First Love // Late Spring” was far from a fluke. “I Don’t Smoke” followed just a while after and teased the extent of the creative risk-taking packed into Bury Me At Makeout Creek. “Texas Reznikoff” sets the tone early, with a gently-picked acoustic guitar that provides a warm bed for Mitski’s mesmerizing vocals before a brief shard of feedback serves as a fleeting warning for the volcanic eruption that takes place a little past halfway through the track, providing a downright vicious ending. “Townie”, with it’s once-in-a-lifetime chorus, kicks the momentum up a few notches while keeping Bury Me At Makeout Creek impressively ragged and resoundingly fierce.

Both of those songs don’t shy away from an easily identifiable resilience, which is part of what makes most of this record so compelling in lyric copy alone. As a writer, Bury Me At Makeout Creek demonstrates Mitski’s knack for probing a well of humanity with an attention to the most acute details that suggests a rare kind of talent.  It’s something that’s especially evident in the chorus of “First Love // Late Spring”, which finds Mitski grappling with the uncertainty of love: “Please don’t say you love me” and “One word from you and I would jump off this ledge I’m on” aren’t particularly light sentiments- but Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record unafraid of shouldering the burdens of the heaviest thoughts and emotions.

From “Francis Forever” to “Drunk Walk Home”, the record’s mid-section reveals the lengths of Mitski’s artistic growth and newfound fearlessness. “Jobless Monday” has the clearest shades of the 50’s and 60’s pop influence that appear with a careful subtlety throughout what’s a decidedly modern record, allowing a faintly psychedelic haze to elevate it into something that practically transcends genre. “I Don’t Smoke” is easily the record’s most experimental moment, bringing in a thoroughly menacing take on industrialism and seamlessly adding it into an already impressively widespread palette of influences. “Francis Forever” brings in twin guitar leads and fully reinforces that this new version of Mitski is the most personal by it’s close. While all three of those songs are great in their own right and help shape Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s identity, it’s the record’s most confrontational moment that will drop the most jaws: “Drunk Walk Home”.

Having seen firsthand the stunned reaction of an entire room when Mitski played a blistering version of this in Chicago at Beat Kitchen just a few weeks ago, the levels of abrasion and the startling nature of “Drunk Walk Home” are impossible to ignore. “For I’m starting to learn I may never be- but though I may never be free, fuck you and your money” is as attention-ensuring of a line as anyone can possibly manage and Mitski delivers it with such a relentless conviction that by the team she ends the song with unrestrained, vocal cord-shredding screaming, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When taking into account the entirety of Bury Me At Makeout Creek up to that point has been spent putting impossibly difficult feelings under a microscope and shredding them to pieces, those screams are fully justified; they’re an act of pure exhilaration in the face of all of the mounting frustrations, uncertainties, conflicts, and unguarded emotions.

“I Will” clears the smoke left behind by “Drunk Walk Home” by virtue of restraint. It’s a truly lovely song that’s clothed in minimal trappings and a palpable tension, one that builds as the song progresses and constantly threatens to break to give way to another massive moment- but that particular explosion never comes. As a whole, it may be the strongest example of Mitski’s maturity and craftsmanship to be found on Bury Me At Makeout Creek while also serving as the perfect lead-in to “Carry Me Home”. Yet another song that could feasibly be labeled as Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s centerpiece (something that more than half of the record could claim), “Carry Me Home” starts with an absolutely gorgeous introduction before another cataclysmic shift that feels like an unexpectedly meaningful embrace from an old friend. In that inexplicably moving burst of warmth, there’s a plea that helps define the record’s overarching sentiments; no matter how insane things get, compassion will always be needed and empathy will always be welcome- no one should have to go through life alone.

The lilting “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” closes the record out, offering up the starkest moment. Composed of nothing but Mitski’s gift of a voice, a finger-picked guitar, an ambient swell, and lyrics revolving around the most unglamorous elements of mortality, it becomes a truly arresting epilogue. When that final volume swell dies out, it’s the last piece of a brilliantly-constructed jigsaw puzzle; a grace note to cap off a series of small perfections. Everything throughout Bury Me At Makeout Creek falls into the exact right place, from the sequencing (which nearly provides an intangible secondary narrative) to the mastering, there are no false steps to be found, right down to the final bittersweet “goodbye”. All of the smallest components of Bury Me At Makeout Creek– and all of its tasteful grandeur- ring true, rendering it both a fascinating anomaly and one of the best things that’s been released in the past several years.

Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record that deserves to be celebrated now and listened to for years to come. It’s a brave new front for one of this generation’s most exciting new artists and another massive victory for Double Double Whammy‘s win column. Tellingly, Mitski’s already released at least one excellent new song (which was recently pulled) since the completion of Bury Me At Makeout Creek, inadvertently indicating a creative restlessness that could pay massive dividends down the line. Until then, Bury Me At Makeout Creek should be held as a high-water mark that other artists would do well to look to as a source of influence and a record that critics would be well within their right to hail as what it truly is: a masterpiece.

Listen to Bury Me At Makeout Creek below and pre-order it from Double Double Whammy here. Below the player embed, watch the video sets of Mitski that originally ran in The Media and Watch This: Vol. 50 as well as previously unseen photos taken from the video shoot for The Media.

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.