Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: lo-fi punk

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.

Weaves – Shithole (Stream)

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Following another insane Monday, Tuesday’s kept things humming along at an impressively furious clip. A few of the full album streams that surfaced included CreaturoS’ miraculous psych-punk stomper Popsicle, Nude Beach’s characteristically impressive 77, Dope Body‘s ferocious Lifers, and Marshall Teller supergroup Psychic Markers’ impressive self-titled debut. On the EP and 7″ side of things, the absolutely jaw-dropping four-way split between Krill, LVL UP, Ovlov, and Radiator Hospital started streaming over on Soundcloud, while the split between Girlpool and Slutever= where both bands cover each other’s songs- went up on bandcamp. Vetter Kids also debuted their excellent new EP, Logan, on AV Club.

A fair few single songs started to make the rounds as well: Guided By Voices mastermind Robert Pollard introduced his new project- Ricked Wicky- by way of the hard-charging “Mobility“, Diarrhea Planet continued to improve with the 90’s-influenced throwback “Bamboo Curtain“, Sorority Noise’s “Wesleyand’s Best Dressed” confirmed their growing buzz is fully warranted, Strange Babes ensured that their upcoming debut effort is worth anticipating with the lovely powerpop of “Holiday“, and Ex-Breathers continued breathing fire into their peculiar brand of hardcore with the violently unhinged “Falling Away“. In addition to all of that, the visual medium was well-represented with a highly stylized (and extremely disquieting) black-and-white clip for “Am Gone” from avant pop weirdos Adult Jazz and Routine Involvements‘ surrealist headtrip for their instrumental track, “UFO“.

Having already given the split between Krill, LVL UP, Ovlov, and Radiator Hopsital quite a bit of attention recently, today’s feature fell to an artist who has yet to earn notable coverage on this site: Toronto’s Weaves. Having just missed their set opening for Courtney Barnett at Sonic Boom during NXNE, they’ve been a band that’s been on the cusp of the radar. Previously, the band’s sound has been rooted in a brave kind of DIY punk experimentalism; electronic and dance undercurrents cut apart what would’ve otherwise been straightforward rock n’ roll songs. While that proved to be an angle that kept things interesting, the band’s done away with any tangential excess on “Shithole”- and they might be better off for it.

“Shithole” is the most direct track of Weaves’ still-young career and very likely their best effort to date. Precariously balanced on the tightrope connecting a laid-back vibe to a relentless energy, it still manages to come across as enticing and effortless in equal measure. Ragged guitar riffs meet a sweetly irresistible vocal melody while vocalist Jasmyn Burke’s lyrics push the whole thing towards the sublime. It’s an absolutely stunning track that completely re-defines the rules for a band that was already emerging- and in doing so, forces an adjustment for the expectations that have started surrounding them. All of that is prompted even before the track’s closed out by a relentless, feedback-tinged solo that supplements the cathartic final chorus. If this really is an indication of the direction Weaves is heading in, it’s time to sit up and start paying extremely close attention to this band.

Listen to “Shithole” below and keep both eyes peeled for whatever Weaves has in store to follow it up.

LVL UP – Big Snow (Stream)

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What a day. There was no obvious choice for a feature until LVL UP’s “Big Snow” premiered over at Impose. On the surface, that’s a bland statement- but looking at the company that “Big Snow” joined today, it’s one hell of a testament to LVL UP.  In the single song department there were some legitimately great songs: Run The Jewels’ pulverizing new (Zach De La Rocha-featuring) scorcher “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)“, Dollface’s impossibly breezy indie pop gem “Churchyard“, Daddy Issues’ distortion-laden post-punk dirge “Ugly When I Cry“, and  a bracing new Crow Bait song- “Separate Stations“- that incorporates members of Iron Chic. There was also Dasher’s foreboding noise-punk minimalism piece, “Teeth“, as well as Vetter Kids’ “I’m Just Your Newest Bluest” which is a perfect representation of the band’s modernist take on classic 90’s emo and noise-punk. “A Million Random Digits” proved that …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are far from being done while Wedding Dress’ “Somewhere Darker” makes it clear that Wedding Dress are anxious to make their introduction to the world.

Cellphone also posited themselves as a band ready to make a notable entrance with an enticing and mysterious trailer to promote their upcoming Excellent Condition. Denmark’s Mimas returned to the fold in a big way with the characteristically impressive live-edit clip for “Kissinger’s Jaw” (fans of Exploding in Sound who aren’t well-versed in Big Scary Monsters would do well to take note of this one) and Tangerine released a delightful video for another indie-pop keeper, “You’ll Always Be Lonely”. Ex Hex got in on the action as well, releasing a knockout video for Rips highlight (one of many) “Waterfall“. For full streams there were stunners from The Grayces, Thurston Moore, and a mildly insane (and wildly heavy) split between Big Neck Police and Dog.

Everything hyperlinked in the two paragraphs above stands as both a great way to share music worth listening to and acts as a very long-winded way of saying that featuring “Big Snow” wasn’t a foregone conclusion- at least not until the riff kicked in at the :26 mark. It’s the third song to be streamed from a just-released split between LVL UP, Krill, Ovlov, and Radiator Hospital. “Big Snow” is a song that’s actually been featured on this site before in an admittedly roundabout way- it was the feature piece in the band’s Serious Business session that was featured on Watch This. Even with Hoodwink’d being one of this site’s top contenders (if not top contender) for Album of the Year honors, “Big Snow” manages to stand out as one of the best songs to spring out of the band’s discography.

Having just seen LVL UP take the roof off of Chicago’s Beat Kitchen (pictured above, more to come on that later), it’s allowed the cementing of some previously-held opinions in regards to how the band functions. First and foremost; this is a truly collaborative effort with everything working as a complement to its surrounding elements at an obscenely high level. Second, this music works best as a victory lap for the disenfranchised; it’s both a rousing call to action and a well-meaning embrace for the people who were told they’d never live up to their potential or lived on the fringes of culture. LVL UP’s never been one to shy away from the unconventional (or the irreverent) and that’s a trait that takes bravery to embody. “Big Snow” hints at all of these elements and includes a rare treat; every one of the band’s vocalists (Dave Benton, Nick Corbo, and Mike Caridi, respectively) joins in for one last rousing harmony run before that surging, blissed-out guitar riff rallies the song to its fade-out finish. If Hoodwink’d wasn’t already proof, “Big Snow” certainly cements what’s become an unavoidable fact: LVL UP are one of today’s best bands and they deserve all the accolades that are bound to fall their way.

Listen to “Big Snow” below and pre-order the split it’s on from Double Double Whammy here.

Three Quarters Down (Mixtape)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: First off, to get this out of the way at the top, there will be no Watch This today. It’s absence will be made up with a unique 50th post next Sunday.]

We recently hit another quarter mark in the year and this site just hit another fifty posts. A digital mixtape- Three Quarters Down– has been curated to celebrate both of these occasions. All 25 songs on display have managed to become favorites in the span of their (admittedly short) existence. It didn’t matter where they came from- splits, records, singles, exclusives- if it was a great song that came out over the course of the past three months, it wound up on the list. However, there are a handful of others that were excluded by virtue of not appearing in Soundcloud’s public library- those will likely get their due in December both here and elsewhere. In the meantime, revisit some of the best songs that led us straight into fall by listening to the mix below.

Beneath the 8tracks player is the original listing of the songs in this collection. Enjoy.

1. Mitski – Townie
2. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
3. LVL UP – DBTS
4. Little Big League – Tropical Jinx
5. The History of Apple Pie – Jamais Vu
6. Menace Beach – Come On Give Up
7. Thalassocracy – Shimensoka
8. Cellphone – Human Rights
9. Ovlov – Ohmu Shell
10. Mumblr – Sober
11. Trust Fund – Reading The Wrappers
12. Girlpool – Jane
13. Night School – Casiotone
14. Happy Diving – Sad Planet
15. Dilly Dally – Green
16. Washer – Rot
17. Speedy Ortiz – Bigger Party
18. The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole
19. Bass Drum of Death – For Blood
20. Mannequin Pussy – Sheet City
21. Pity Sex – Acid Reflex
22. Mogwai – Teenage Exorcists
23. Nothing – July The Fourth
24. Dark Blue – Here On My Street
25. Crimson Wave – Say

LVL UP – Soft Power (Stream)

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LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d is suddenly all just about anyone can talk about. There’s a very simple reason for this, too- and it’s name is “Soft Power”. Following a few outstanding lo-fi releases for the increasingly influential Double Double Whammy label, the song takes all of the band’s best qualities and pushes them to their  absolute limit. From the lilting vocal melody to the shards of gritty lo-fi punk riffs that slice the song wide open, all of their hallmarks are present. What differentiates this from their past work is the way it’s presented. Jangling guitar work’s married with a more confident, drawn-out structure. Explosive sections are no longer brief, they’re played for maximum impact and build momentum instead of abruptly cutting it off at the head (a trick they used expertly on songs like “*_*“). All told, the New York band’s truly emerged with what’s likely to stand as one of the year’s best songs by the time it draws to a close- and, at this point, it’d be a shock if Hoodwink’d didn’t live up to that promise as well.

Listen to “Soft Power” over at the band’s bandcamp and pre-order Hoodwink’d from Double Double Whammy here.

First Quarter Finish (Mixtape)

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Well, Heartbreaking Bravery’s another 50 posts in, which means that it’s time for another mixtape- and the timing couldn’t be any better. As April springs forth, a new quarter begins and leaves the first part of the year behind, opening it up for examination. First Quarter Finish is a testament to the the startling strength of 2014’s first three months and is largely composed of music that’s been featured on this site. Perfect Pussy‘s “Driver” kicks things off in a typically frenzied fashion, reflecting the purpose of this collection as acutely as possible. Make no mistake, this is a batch of songs that traffic in very high intensity even in their quietest moments.

From tour-only tapes to standout cuts off early Album of the Year contenders like Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Here and Nowhere Else, and Rooms of the House to eerily hypnotic momentsderanged apathetic insanity, and a very long list of promising glimpses at upcoming records, it’s truly been a hell of a start and deserves celebration. Listen to the sounds of that celebration below (if the player is not appearing onscreen, it can also be accessed here).


TRACKLIST

1. Perfect Pussy – Driver
2. La Sera – Losing to the Dark
3. Cheap Girls – Knock Me Down
4. Archie Powell & the Exports – Everything’s Fucked
5. Crow Bait – 83
6. Big Air – Cemetery With A View
7. PAWS – Tongues
8. Brain F≠ – Sicks
9. Antarctigo Vespucci – I’m Giving Up On U2
10. Playlounge – Waves and Waves and Waves
11. Vertical Scratchers – Memory Shards
12. Angel Olsen – Forgiven/Forgotten
13. Silence Dogood – Chairman of the Bored
14. Priests – Right Wing
15. Green Dreams – Eye Contact
16. Fucked Up – Paper the House
17. Creepoid – Baptism
18. La Dispute – Woman (in Mirror)
19. Sleep Party People – In Another World
20. Odonis Odonis – Order in the Court
21. PILE – Special Snowflakes
22. Young Widows – King Sol
23. Protomartyr – Scum, Rise!
24. Technicolor Teeth – Tomb
25. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me