LVL UP was a band that meant an extraordinary amount to a handful of people and publications, this one included. Losing them last year was a hard pill to swallow but the band’s dissolution allowed its members to pursue freshly formed or revived projects that were of a more directly personal nature. One of those projects was multi-instrumentalist Mike Caridi’s The Glow, which had existed in various forms throughout the years but never released a proper album.
Am I corrects that fact with a kaleidoscopic grace. Caridi’s warped pop-leaning sensibilities shine though this material, even as it gets coated in fuzz and distortion. Am I effortlessly builds a surrealist world both around and inside of its songs, conjuring up images of schools, rivers, lost youth, and open skies. There’s a smoky nostalgia that lingers in the corners, as Caridi soothes, broods, reflects, and embraces various aspects of the songwriter’s personality.
Breezy and endlessly enjoyable, Am I is best enjoyed with a good pair of headphones — the production work throughout is remarkable — and without distraction. There are endless layers to be uncovered in the habitats that Am I creates and revisits, each teeming with fresh life. A quintessential spring record, Am I also doubles as a necessary reminder that when good things have to end, there are other memories to be formed and paths to be forged once the dust has settled. In all, Am I is a fresh start and a poignant reminder of Caridi’s outsize songwriting talent. One of the year’s most enjoyable basement pop listens.
Listen to Am I below and pick it up from Double Double Whammy here.
One of the hardest pills to swallow last year was the dissolution of LVL UP, a band that meant a lot to me and many others on a personal level. What helped ease the sadness that accompanied that announcement was that each of the band’s members would continue pursuing music through different outlets. Dave Benton’s Trace Mountains (which also features drummer Greg Rutkin) released the excellent A Partner To Lean Onbefore 2018 was over, Nick Corbo followed suit with a single for his new project Spirit Was, and Mike Caridi began teasing material for his largely solo venture, The Glow.
Earlier this week, The Glow announced a debut album and released a pair of singles to stoke the anticipation for its release. Mission accomplished. Am I, due out May 24 on Double Double Whammy, will be comprised of two halves of songs. Reportedly, half of this incoming set was written when Caridi was 23 and LVL UP was in full bloom, with the other half being written much more recently, around the band’s end. Appropriately, “I Am Not Warm” — which has previously appeared as a demo — and “Weight of Sun”, offer a glimpse at each half.
Both songs run just past the 1:50 mark, falling very much in line with Caridi’s established tendencies of writing breezy basement pop songs with sticky melodies. Another dominant Caridi trademark’s present in the abundance of warm tones, creating impossibly lovely soundscapes. Where this new era of The Glow differs from the songwriter’s is in its expansiveness, which is evidenced in both the dynamic shifts present in each track. Whether it’s an abrupt break to a mournful piano outro or the continuously shifting nature of “Weight of Sun”, there’s a very real sense that Caridi’s world-building through composition.
“I Am Not Warm” and “Weight of Sun” constitute an incredibly impressive opening barrage from a reliably great songwriter looking to further a burgeoning legacy. Lose yourself in the deceptively elegant charms of each track and circle May 24 on the calendar. Early indicators are pointing towards that Friday being one worth celebrating.
Listen to “I Am Not Warm” and “Weight of Sun” below and pre-order Am I from Double Double Whammy here.
2018 saw more songs considered for coverage at Heartbreaking Bravery than any of the now 5+ years its been in existence. Thousands of tracks were heard and hundreds upon hundreds were mentioned in some way. The 18 selections below represent the best of that crop, while the overall batch holds true to this publication’s mission: to give praise to the under-represented. Nearly half of the tracks selected weren’t released as singles and some still have only been heard a scant few hundred times. Taken as a whole, these serve as a representation of a frequently overlooked slice of 2018’s finest.
Spring Onion – I Did My Taxes For Free Online
While a resurgent Remember Sports had a very strong showing in 2018, the best track to Carmen Perry’s name was through the Spring Onion project. “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is a bit of rare perfection, tapping directly into the weary malaise of modern young adulthood. A mid-tempo acoustic-driven Americana pop song, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is astonishing on both a musical and narrative level, the little flourishes (the banjo, the auto-tone) enhancing an incredibly engaging slice-of-life story that never wears out, no matter how many times its played. In short, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is nothing short of a minor miracle.
Young Jesus – Deterritory
In 2012 Young Jesus took a gigantic leap forward as a band with Home, which was the first of their releases to indicate the reach of their outsize ambition. Nearly every release since then, the scope of that ambition has been stretched further as the band’s evolved. The Whole Thing Is Just There, their first true release under Saddle Creek finds the band in their most exploratory mode to date, having morphed into a free-punk band.
“Deterritory“, the record’s lead-off single, was a clear indication of Young Jesus’ growth: elements of art-punk, classic emo, and post-hardcore enveloped their early roots to create something singular and breathtaking. No second’s wasted, even when the band embraces improvisation with no reservation. For as loose as some of “Deterritory” may feel, the song’s final 20 seconds are the fiercest and most concise piece of music the band’s offered up to date.
The Little Miss – Take Me, Too
“Take Me, Too” is a virtually unknown song from an artist who got next to no coverage for their last record. It’s also one of the year’s best songs and a testament to the fact that PR’s main purpose isn’t inextricably connected to talent or worth. Few, if any, songs to have come out in 2018 hit as hard and with as much unforgiving force as this sparse look at mortality, which welcomes death’s inevitability without resorting to overwrought histrionics.
Tender, empathetic, and knowing,”Take Me, Too” is a song that aches, yearning for resolution while maintaining a grounded, dignified sense of humanity. As a result, the song stands as one of the most unexpectedly breathtaking closing tracks in recent memory.
Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On
LVL UP disbanded in late 2018 but at that point, the year had already provided a cushion of hope for the future work of its members with Dave Benton’s project Trace Mountains releasing a career-best work in A Partner To Lean On. The title track of that record finds Benton in vintage mode, opening with a stanza that dives straight into the connection between spirituality and nature.
“A Partner To Lean On” is also an impossible-to-shake mid-tempo toe-tapper that elevates itself by the nature of its own restraint, leaning into intuitive decisions with an infectious confidence that’s rooted in calmness. Clear-eyed and warm, “A Partner To Lean On” winds up as one of Benton’s best songs, putting it in exceptionally strong company.
Whitney Ballen – Black Cloud
You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Shipwas an absurdly strong debut effort from Whitney Ballen, highlighted by both unexpected turns and a frequently brutal level of emotional honesty. “Black Cloud” provided the record’s apex of both, something that intersected on the song’s early dip into jaw-dropping heaviness. A haunted look back at early warning signs, the song embraces the narrative’s stormy tumultuous nature with gritted teeth and a snarl. Oscillating between pensive and punishing, “Black Cloud” secured a rightful place as one of 2018’s most intentionally jarring highlights.
Dilly Dally – Sorry Ur Mad
Dilly Dally spent 2018 enjoying a resurrection of sorts, having almost hung up their instruments for good while battling internal demons. Heaven, the quartet’s sophomore effort, frequently chronicled the difficult path to their own salvation, resulting in some of the band’s best songs to date. “Sorry Ur Mad” was delivered, arguably, as Heaven‘s centerpiece (in a narrative sense as well as being the album’s halfway point).
A determined tour de force, “Sorry Ur Mad” propels itself forward by virtue of sheer blunt force, the composition ratcheting up the tension with its attentiveness to dynamics, stop/start rhythms inducing a palpable sense of nervous energy. The rare song that manages to increase its grip incrementally up until the breathtaking finale, “Sorry Ur Mad” charts a scrappy path to incredibly memorable terrain.
Fred Thomas – What The Sermon Said
The last three records that Fred Thomas has released comprised a trilogy that contained the best work of the journeyman’s quietly illustrious career. “What The Sermon Said”, the spellbinding capper to an incredible run, found a way to stand out. The song’s first half operates in an explicitly ambient, stream-of-consciousness format before morphing into one of the most devastating narratives Thomas has delivered since the heartfelt eulogy that drove “Every Song Sung To A Dog“.
A seamless transition bridge the two halves, a melancholic saxophone figure being enhanced considerably by a simple, elegiac string arrangement. Thomas spends the song’s final minutes detailing a trip to the chapel, looking for hope and finding nothing but an increasing sense of alienation. “What The Sermon Said” may or may not be a commentary on the difficulty of aging and the challenges it can present or it may just be an unflinching look back at a time of relative desperation but no matter how its viewed, the overwhelming cumulative effect lingers long enough to leave a scar all its own.
Gouge Away – Ghost
Gouge Away‘s most recent work stood out as a career best and saw the band, clearly operating with a sense of invigoration, stretch their range in surprising ways. “Ghost” was the most noticeable evidence, an uncharacteristic — even pretty — slow-burner from the incredibly ferocious post-hardcore act. The song presented something of a risk but paid off with huge dividends, propelling the band’s recognition forward with ease, coming off as something of a victory lap for an incredibly hard-working band that’s deserved more attention from the word go.
Miya Folick – Thingamajig
“Trouble Adjusting” served as an introduction-at-large for many to the world of Miya Folick, which flashed a lot of promise in its raw basement pop-friendly aesthetics. Since that song’s release, Folick’s taken a somewhat unpredictable path that’s taken the songwriter to “Thingamajig” a painfully gorgeous ambient pop track that served as the unexpected opener to Premonitions.
Working in a mode that’s reminiscent of Half Waif’s recent body of work, Folick delivers an incredible career best, taking a long, reflective look at autonomy and decision-making that could feasibly double as a thesis statement for what Folick hopes to accomplish as an artist. “Only you know what to do”, the songwriter repeats at the song’s hushed close, infusing the delivery with not just meaning but intent, creating an impression that lets the listener know Folick’s in this until the end.
Evening Standards – Lil Green Man
A ways into the year, Evening Standards quietly released their self-titled debut, which was a near-perfect basement pop album. The record didn’t receive any notices outside of a very niche circle but did make one hell of an impression inside that circle. Formed out of the ashes of site favorites PURPLE 7, the band was already working with a strong pedigree that was evident in songs like the raucous “Lil Green Man”, an absurdly strong track that’s still earning regular spins.
“Lil Green Man” takes an intentionally ridiculous angle to explore an incredibly complex topic, using an alien invasion to reflect on the nature of existence and the meaningfulness of the human experience. Every second of the track’s wildly enjoyable and “Lil Green Man” also benefits from one of 2018’s most explosive choruses, the narrative and composition colliding in a cathartic release that suggests Evening Standards don’t actually care all that much about the answer to the question they’re raising, opting instead to revel in the moment and have as much goddamn fun as possible while they’re in each other’s company.
Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now
Cloud Nothings returned with a slight lineup tweak once again, doubling-down on Life Without Sound‘s career summation but combining separate elements of their previous body of work. One of the best examples of their refined approach came courtesy of one of many of Last BuildingBurning‘s highlight in “Leave Him Now“. The song also separates itself from the band’s past work by containing one of the most emotionally affecting narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi has penned, fixating on a feeling of helplessness as the songwriter begs a friend to escape from an abusive relationship.
There’s an additional edge and urgency that lends itself to the music, Jayson Gerycz’s drumming returning to an otherworldly realm and standing as one of the best individual weapons the rock/punk genre as a whole has to offer. What separates “Leave Him Now” from what many view as a cloying trope is that Baldi never centers himself as a romantic option in the narrative, instead pleading for an unnamed friend to find a place of security and well-being that’s evaded them as they’ve fallen prey to predatory behavior, leaving “Leave Him Now” as one of the band’s strongest overall compositions.
Basement Revolver – Baby
One of the many, many bands that can’t seem to stop topping themselves by wide margins is Basement Revolver, who delivered one of 2018’s most unexpected gut-punches with the aching “Baby“. A song pleading for forgiveness and patience while navigating the internalized fears and trauma that frequently accompany young relationships, “Baby” may have been strong enough to secure a spot on this list by the nature of its deeply human subject matter.
What puts “Baby” well above the cut is its delivery, enhanced in no small part by a chill-inducing arrangement and bandleader Chrisy Hurns’ emotional vocal delivery. On many levels, “Baby” is an absolutely overwhelming listening experience, bordering voyeuristic as Basement Revolved surrenders completely to the apex of the unbridled levels of intense, competing feelings when the problem’s as hard to identify as the solution.
Tomberlin – I’m Not Scared
At Weddingsannounced Tomberlin as a major voice, which was all but cemented with early single “I’m Not Scared“. A rumination on personal hardships, both arbitrarily assigned and self-inflicted, “I’m Not Scared” was the most unforgiving track on what proved to be a very thematically difficult record. Driven by piano and a restrained string arrangement, “I’m Not Scared” bounces from harsh observations about everything from outside judgment to the physical pain that accompanies bodily function.
To completely bridge the song’s narrative arcing, “I’m Not Scared” balances those two elements against each other and lets those observations inform a devastating conclusion, summed up by the chorus: And to be a woman is to be in pain/And my body reminds me almost every day/That I was made for another, but I don’t want to know that/Cause it happened once and I always look back. Searing and searching, the song’s painful honesty translates into a major moment for the emergent songwriter.
Big Ups – Imaginary Dog Walker
Big Ups were another band that hung it up (at least for a while) in 2018, going out on the startling artistic high note that Two Parts Togetherprovided. Appropriately the record’s high point was its closer, “Imaginary Dog Walker” something that coincidentally summed up Big Ups’ long-held mastery of creating tension. “Imaginary Dog Walker” had been a highlight of the band’s live set and the studio recording more than does the song justice, using its slow simmer as if they were a set of sharpened fingernails sinking deeper into flesh. No song over the band’s astonishing discography seethed or detonated quite like this one, which sees the band going out on an absolutely extraordinary note and a career best that will be near impossible to top if they ever decide to return. Fingers crossed that at some point, they wind up trying.
Mount Eerie – Distortion
No recent run of songs has been as uncomfortable to listen to as the diaristic work that Mount Eerie‘s released of late, explicitly chronicling Phil Elverum‘s own experiences in the wake of his former wife’s recent, unexpected death. The internal conversation to include any of this work, which is deeply personal, remains. “Real Death” did manage to steal away 2017’s Song of the Year honors but it now has an equal in the 11-minute sprawl of “Distortion“, which is structured like an epic.
Opening with humming washes of distortion, the song quickly sinks into an intricate, acoustic finger-picked pattern and delivers a knockout first stanza:
But I don’t believe in ghosts or anything I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around Some untrustworthy old description in my memories And that must be your ghost taking form Created every moment by me dreaming you so And is it my job now to hold whatever’s left of you for all time? And to reenact you for our daughter’s life?
“Distortion” doesn’t let up from that point forward, chronicling Elverum’s travels and real-life confrontations with death, equating the songwriter’s own journey to the beat poets that are referenced throughout the song. It’s an uncomfortable, implicit analogy that grows increasingly real when presented with the context of Elverum’s life. There are moments of bitterness, ugliness, and cruelty that are unavoidable as we fight to find meaning in our lives and Elverum presents that revelation with a commendable directness.
By the time the song comes to its fittingly devastating conclusion, it’s somewhat difficult to return to interacting with personal surroundings. Immensely complex and emotionally draining, “Distortion” has the unique effect of both sapping energy and burrowing into listeners’ consciousness, nestling next to a void that we all have to eventually face and reconcile. Texts like “Distortion” will help with that process when the time comes, making the unthinkably brave work Elverum’s doing incredibly valuable and worth experiencing, especially in moments where it’s of need.
Half Waif – Silt
Lavenderrepresented an inspiring step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s Half Waif project, easily separating itself from a very crowded field to stand as one of the most moving releases of 2018. Informed heavily by a sense of separation (in both a familial and a personal sense), Lavender lands its most memorable knockout blow with “Silt”, which is the kind of track that can make the world stop.
Arriving around Lavender‘s halfway mark, “Silt” opens and closes with gorgeous analog synth tones, book-ending Plunkett’s swan dive into a search for self-worth and reassurance while trying to grapple with an incredibly clouded, distant state of mind. One of the many tracks on this list that benefits from a naked honesty that confronts a damaging impulse, “Silt” finds a way to stab deep into the heart of what it means to be left at a loss. Cold in nature but warm in its delivery, “Silt” is a startlingly potent reminder of Plunkett’s increasing talents as a songwriter.
Long Neck – Milky Way
Jawbreaker Reunion was the first band to push Lily Mastrodimos‘ name to a larger audience but that band supplemented Long Neck, a solo project that’s gradually evolved into a full lineup. Both acts seemed to benefit each other, seeing Mastrodimos’ confidence grow in both settings with the increased recognition. Still, with a handful of songs that were frequently incredible, what Long Neck achieved with Will This Do?came as a surprise, presenting the most direct, confrontational, and brave work of Mastrodimos’ young career.
“Milky Way”, part of the record’s astonishing closing stretch — which still stands as 2018’s strongest end run — was a testament to that growth. Much life Half Waif’s Lavender, Will This Do?was shaped by the inevitability of familial death, which is alluded to on “Milky Way”. The song’s foreboding opening breaks into a quick jaunt, oscillating back and forth, centering on a narrative of uncertainty as the makeup of the world changes around the narrator. Frequent reminders to stay awake are issued, while a portrait of grief peeks through the narrative trappings, leading to one of the year’s most emotionally volatile closing sections.
A simple but blistering guitar solo, mired in darkness suddenly surrenders to daybreak once again before Mastrodimos drives “Milky Way” home with an abundance of feeling, conjuring a chilling picture of total, complete helplessness:
Sore feet and sore eyes and it’s nothing, it’s nothing. Echoes in our cave. I sat to watch the sunset and I just fucking lost it.
The song’s final twist of the knife “And I just fucking lost it” repeats 9 times in total, each instance growing more pained and frantic, louder in its despair, stubbornly resilient as the song deteriorates around the mantra, suggesting that sometimes there is no comfort aside from acceptance and release. One of 2018’s most unforgettable individual moments by miles.
SONG OF THE YEAR
IDLES – Samaritans
Few songs this year hit outward and with as much as force as IDLES‘ seething take-down of toxic masculinity and the cultures that not only encouraged men to be emotionally repressed and overly competitive but allowed it to thrive. A centuries-long cultivation of what it means to be a man was frequently, justly challenged over the past few years with increasing fervor. “Samartians” lends its voice to that fight, railing like hell against a methodology that’s created borderline irreparable damage through a precedent of repression.
Whether that repression’s self-inflicted on an emotional level or maliciously leveled against women in more executive terms, IDLES have every right to be pissed off at the practice. The APA recently released a study backed by 40 years of research that deemed “traditional masculinity” (which was largely built on inherently toxic notions) as harmful. “Samaritans” is a song that’s well aware of its topics nuance and wisely anchors itself with father-sibling relationships, bringing the effect into focus with the absolutely brutal hook This is why you never see your father cry. This is why you never see your father.
From its incendiary start to its jaw-dropping final section, “Samaritans” seethes to the point of shaking, intense rhythm section sending the song hurtling forward to its punishing finale. Expectations are confronted and stared down at every turn within the narrative (which is further supplemented by the montage video the song was gifted, which can be seen below) as the music provides even more retaliatory purpose.
While the whole song’s worth praising, special attention has to be paid to the song’s final minute, which significantly elevates the song’s intensity after a remarkably beautiful guitar-driven bridge. the song tips over into something sublime as vocalist and principal kicks the song into fifth gear, roaring “I KISSED A BOY AND I LIKED IT”, triggering a musical detonation that may very well have been 2018’s punchiest moment, guitars turning violent and almost staccato as Talbot repeats “This is why, this is why, this is why” before allowing the whole thing to collapse and drift off in smoke, creating a lasting reminder of a reckoning that’s no longer waiting on the horizon.
Only a few days have passed since we turned to a new calendar year and everyone’s looking ahead to resolutions. While that’s a natural way to progress, sometimes it’s worth casting a glance back, especially when the recent past was so fruitful. In all three of the major release categories (songs, music videos, and full streams), there were gems unearthed throughout December. This post is one last look at a very specific slice of 2018 before this site catches up to everyone else and reveals its picks for Music Video, Song, and Album of the Year. In honor of a recent series of tweets from Small Albums, all of the reviews below will be two sentences or less. A few of the selections below might even make an appearance. Hedge your bets on which by exploring all the offerings below.
1. Very Jazzed – Get A Job
A tongue-in-cheek post-punk rambler that’s as defiantly joyous as it is self-deprecating. “Get A Job” finds Very Jazzed in an immediate, accessible mode that suits them perfectly.
2. Guided By Voices – My Angel
One of the most dependable acts of the last few decades keeps surging forward with “My Angel”. A characteristically brief burst of energy, melody, and understanding from Guided By Voices.
3. Tørsö – Grab A Shovel
“Grab A Shovel” more than shows why Tørsö have become a revered emerging force on the DIY hardcore circuit. Gnarled, snarling, and unforgiving, it’s a monster of a track from an act worth following.
4. The Gentleman Losers – Make We Here Our Campfire
The Gentleman Losers crafted an enigmatic beauty in their recent Make We Here Our Campfire, a record headlined by its spellbinding title track. Melancholic and intuitive, “Make We Here Our Campfire” grips the senses like a vice, pulling the listener in until the very end.
1. Eerie Wanda – Sleepy Eyes
A hybrid clip for Eerie Wanda’s “Sleepy Eyes” serves as a perfect complement to the song. Part lyric video, part traditional footage, “Sleep Eyes” takes a simple concept and guides it to memorability.
LVL UP‘s dissolution may only be a few months in the past but its members are already going full bore with their new projects, including Nick Corbo’s Spirit Was. “Golden Soul” is a beautiful introduction-at-large to the project, the moody visuals perfectly suited to Corbo’s slow-burn songwriting mentality.
4. Noname – Blaxploitation
“Blaxploitation” is delivered not just as a music video but as a film, suggesting Noname‘s visual ambitions are just as bold as the ambition evidenced in the music. Playing off the monster movie film canon to supplement a pointed social commentary, “Blaxploitation” earns the film designation.
5. La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
Every so often, something that’s so tethered to something deeply personal gives me reason to break this site’s “no first person” clause and in the case of La Dispute‘s gorgeously animated “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” it’s this: I was in a horrific car accident after a deer jumped a barricade on the interstate and left my partner’s previous car as a total loss. A scene, with some added symbolism, of an extremely similar nature is depicted throughout this clip and explores something that feels unflinching honest in its surreal, gently nightmarish portrayal.
6. Phoebe Bridgers – Killer
Phoebe Bridgers‘ Stranger In the Alps is holding strong as one of the better records of the past few years and the sublime, crisp black-and-white clip for “Killer” serves as a stark reminder of its potency. A tender, engaging clip for a song worthy of this kind of treatment.
1. Mister Goblin – Final Boy
While Two Inch Astronaut has taken a bow, Sam Woodring is still going strong, a fact evidenced by a sterling debut effort from the songwriter’s newest project, Mister Goblin. Keeping Two Inch Astronaut’s core sensibilities intact but providing them a slightly lighter sheen, Woodring finds a joy in exploring some (mostly) untapped spaces and that joy translates into a rewarding listen.
2. pting – beep beep
beep beep stands out as a charming effort from pting pting, offering three tracks of punk-indebted slacker pop that are worth every revisit.
3. Strange Ranger – etc.
A project that’s been a site favorite for a few years keeps finding intriguing ways to evolve. etc. is a fascinating left turn for Strange Ranger but one that’s in keeping with their recent exploratory bent, finding them in a bed of acoustic warmth that still has room for the electronic-heavy collaborative closer.
Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh is an endearing split release from Lrrr and Maxshh, which finds the two projects squaring off, collaborating, and contributing a Frankie Cosmos cover for good measure. A mid-fi bedroom/basement pop triumph.
5. Laura Stevenson – The Mystic & The Master
One of today’s most underrated songwriters returns and offers two strong, heartfelt tracks of contemporary folk pop. Imbued with empathy and subtle artistry, “The Mystic & The Master” and “Maker of Things” are more than deserving of their place in Laura Stevenson‘s discography.
6. Spirit Was – Golden Soul
As stated above, though LVL UP’s gone, multi-instrumentalist Nick Corbo’s most certainly not. Golden Soul finds Corbo sinking deep into contemplation while clinging to a torch, ready to set everything ablaze at a moment’s notice.
7. Another Heaven – FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER
While FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER is a title destined to have people counting on their fingers, the songs it contains are more likely to make listeners feel a sense of awareness. Urgent, thoughtful, and nearly overwhelming, Another Heaven have released a behemoth of an EP that stands among 2018’s finest releases.
A note here, before things get too much further. I try to make it a habit to not write or use a first person perspective on this site and when I do make an exception, it’s to convey the personal connection I have to the material. LVL UP‘s goodbye note and their swan song might go beyond being just personal. Theirs was a band I loved fiercely, from the very moment my friend Sasha introduce me to them at her Chicago apartment. All it took was one live video for me to feel like I was being leveled; they were operating in a genre I loved but subverting it in a way that legitimately obliterated (and subsequently redefined) how I approached writing my own music.
From that point forward, I would listen to the band obsessively. I got to know their side projects, the bands they were in that preceded LVL UP, the bands they were forming. The first time I saw them was with Sasha again at Beat Kitchen in Chicago, where we all shared a meal with Mitski, who was touring alongside the band and in the early stages of becoming a legitimate powerhouse. Over the course of that day and getting to know the people in the band, there was a palpable kindness that was extended to me, operating without the knowledge that I was the one who labored over multiple pieces dissecting what made their music so distinct and so important.
They’d find out by the end of the night and respond in kind but by then, they’d already established themselves as the type of people who create their own families, housing them with empathy and affection. A few years later, I would find myself quite literally sleeping under the roof of their de facto home base, DBTS, during my brief stint living in New York. By that point, I’d already crowned Hoodwink‘d 2014’s Album of the Year and would be a year removed from giving Return to Lovethe same accolade.
It’s incredibly important to note here that those records didn’t receive those positions because LVL UP was kind to me; I had no idea that the members would become integral — if somewhat distant — parts of my life when Sasha hit play on that video. They earned those spots because their music always gave me a sense of belonging, which is exceedingly rare. I was fascinated by the collaboration, which seemed to establish an equal footing, and I was blown away by their articulation of a very specific sect of early adulthood.
Whether Nick, Dave, or Mike were expressing heartache, betrayal, wonderment, isolation, or warmth, the way the narratives took shape always found a way to hit me especially hard. It wasn’t just that the lyrics or instrumentation were impressive, there was an abundance of heart and humility that resonated with me to the point where my countless personal retreats into the worlds they conjured felt like a part of my identity.
Moving into DBTS for a short stretch only served to strengthen and accentuate things that I’d already learned; LVL UP wasn’t just a four person band. LVL UP was a family that extended beyond the confines of music. “They don’t love you like we do” wasn’t just a lyric, it was a way of living that’s spawned unforgettable moments for not just their friends but listeners the world over that found that same connection to their music that I held tight.
Considering every inch of those aspects of the band, their announcement a few short weeks ago and the release of “Orchard” have made the goodbye especially painful. Coming on the back of their most celebrated record (along with signing to Sub Pop), the band’s future seemed wide open. Everything seemed to be clicking, even as the trio of core songwriters dipped into their respective solo projects (Trace Mountains, Spirit Was, and The Glow) with an increased dedication while drummer Greg Rutkin found success in Cende, a band that was gone too soon.
It’s in those solo projects (and the various others that all four members have played pivotal roles) that there resides hope for what LVL UP can offer in the future. Each of their albums, 7″s, and odds and ends compilations encapsulates the kind of legacy that people will point to as a source of inspiration for years to come. “Orchard” is a worthy addition to that legacy and the most bittersweet moment of a discography that never shied away from challenging dichotomies.
Everyone gets a turn in front of the microphone one final time, sharing harmonies together with the knowledge that this will be their last time, imbuing the song with a sense of longing and finality. In that context, “Orchard” becomes devastating; it’s the end of an era that heralded innumerable arrivals, songs, and moments. There’s a palpable weight in the delivery, as if the members of LVL UP themselves were still struggling to come to terms with the decision to have one final outing before hanging up their banner for good.
Over that final three minutes and 48 seconds, the band lean into their interplay to incredible effect, pushing it to the forefront for a deeply felt goodbye. Fittingly, considering the circumstances, “Orchard” is the most melancholic moment of the band’s career, replete with elegiac, swirling organ lines cascading down onto reverb-laden vocals. The song’s kept at mid-tempo but still feels urgent, as if holding back from collapse; mirroring those of us who have struggled with this being the last new song we’ll likely ever hear from the band.
From a narrative perspective, “Orchard” seems to touch on a metaphor that applies to the history these four people have built together, from the ground up. An orchard turns out to be an apt metaphor as LVL UP waxes poetic on the nature of change; life and death being inextricably intertwined, one providing the inevitability of the other. Even through that wistful lens, there’s a sliver of hope in the allowance of rebirth. If “Orchard” truly winds up being the band’s parting gift to those who were fortunate enough to cross the path of their music, it’s an exquisite one.
All we can do now is hope that Nick Corbo, Greg Rutkin, Dave Benson, and Mike Caridi keep finding ways to keep the flames they stoked alive in some way or another. LVL UP’s dissolution may offer difficult routes to reconciliation, but the space it affords is lit with a rare kind of promise that will be a comfort in the ongoing rolling blackout of treasured NYC DIY institutions. Fortunately, the band’s not ready for a final goodbye quite yet and will be taking an extended bow on a farewell tour.
Read the band’s goodbye note and buy tickets for one of the farewell tour dates listed as soon as they become available.
“We have decided to retire this project. It has been an extremely rewarding journey beyond anything we could have ever realistically imagined,” LVL UP said in a statement. “The band began in a college dorm room in 2011 as a lighthearted recording project. We have since been lucky enough to tour nationally and internationally over the last seven years with the support of many lovely people, and will never be able to thank our friends, families, and loved ones enough for providing such warmth throughout this experience. Our deepest gratitude goes out to every label, band, and person who’s played a role in this wild ride.”
08/27 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott
08/28 – Montréal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
08/29 – Toronto, ON @ The Garrison
08/30 – Cleveland, OH @ Mahall’s
08/31 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
09/01 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
09/04 – Missoula, MN @ Union Ballroom
09/05 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
09/06 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
09/08 – San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
09/09 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
09/10 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
09/13 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
09/14 – Austin, TX @ Barracuda
09/16 – Nashville, TN @ High Watt
09/17 – Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
09/18 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
09/19 – Richmond, VA @ The Camel
09/20 – Washington, DC @ DC9
09/21 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
09/28 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Watch a collection of personally shot live videos and listen to “Orchard” below.
We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.
Weaves – 53 + Walkaway
One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.
Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress
Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.
Common Holly – Nothing
Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.
Abraham King – Spit
Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.
METZ – Drained Lake
One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.
Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart
A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.
Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2
Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.
Madeline Kenney – Big One
The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.
Weakened Friends – Hate Mail
While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.
Mike Caridi – Two Dogs
LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.
Grouper – Children
Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.
Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show
Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.
A lot of outside forces — from tour scheduling to a forthcoming move — necessitated a brief hiatus for this site. Heartbreaking Bravery remains a one-person operation (albeit, one supported by a generous community of like-minded people) so it can be difficult to keep pace when life gets hectic. That being said, it’s a project that’s always receiving attention, even if it’s radio silent for a stretch of time.
To that end, today will largely be focused on honorable mentions lists and a few abbreviated best-of’s for the material that was released during this most recent interim. A few releases will also get there own feature, like the item kicking today’s coverage off: Cende‘s outstanding #1 Hit Single which ranks among 2017’s finest offerings and stands as an exhilarating new chapter for one of today’s smartest basement pop bands.
Having already claimed this site’s Best EP of 2015 distinction, the anticipation for their full-length debut was considerably high. Propelling that anticipation to stratospheric heights by way of lead-off singles “Bed” and “What I Want“, had #1 Hit Single been anything short of masterful, it would’ve been a crushing disappointment. Of course, with the combined track record of the band’s members, that outcome was always far less likely than the inevitable: #1 Hit Single is a genuinely exceptional record.
Virtually everything on this record has been given an extreme amount of care and attention, the meticulous observation and clinical understanding of composition on every level elevates the record from simply being great to being a surprisingly understated genre classic. By taking their punk-leaning energy and suffusing it with classical underpinnings and some notably DIY leanings, Cende’s landed on something that feels fresh, familiar, and entirely their own.
“What I Want” standing as the perfect example of how the band’s marriage of punk, powerpop, hardcore, bedroom pop, and a variety of other sub-genres can not only exist harmoniously but congeal into a spellbinding whole. While that song’s unusually soft nature comes as somewhat of a curveball, the ensuing track puts the band back on an aggressive path that’s more attuned to their surprisingly vicious live show.
The back half of #1 Hit Single reaffirms everything laid out by its predecessor, encapsulating the band’s mastery over their craft and identity to an unavoidable degree. From the quiet insistence of “Void” — one of the strongest tracks on a record comprised of nothing but highlights — to the subdued melancholia of “While I’m Alive”, there’s not a false moment to be found. It’s a beautiful cap to a painfully honest and surprisingly poignant record about insecurity, uncertainty, and hanging onto shreds of optimism and resilience. Put simply: #1 Hit Record is the type of record you hold onto long enough to pass down to the next generation, hoping they do the same.
Listen to #1 Hit Single below and pick it up from Double Double Whammy here.
In under 100 seconds, Cende manages to make yet another strong impression, this time emphasizing their more punk influences rather than scaling them back. It’s an effect that goes a long way in creating both energy and momentum, leaving “Don’t Want To” feeling surprisingly vital and a little volatile in the process. Guitarist/vocalist Cameron Wisch once again centers the narrative on self-doubt, self-deprecation, and self-awareness, which remains an intensely relatable combination. As sharp as both “Bed” and “What I Want“, “Don’t Want To” all but cements the lingering feeling that #1 Hit Song will wind up among the year’s best records.
Listen to “Don’t Want To” below (and watch the band rip through the song and an as-of-yet unreleased song beneath the initial embed) and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.
Masterfully composed and precisely executed, “What I Want” loses none of its drive but gains a tender sheen thanks to the backing vocals from Frankie Cosmos‘ Greta Kline. Cameron Wisch, Cende’s bandleader and principle songwriter, conjures up an airy atmospheric that Kline fills to perfection. When Kline’s vocals kick in for the first time, it’s a genuinely breathtaking moment, buoyed by a string arrangement that straddles the divide between sweet and melancholic beautifully, perfectly accentuating Kline’s contribution.
Following Kline’s verse is a bridge that demonstrate the band’s sheer talent, veering between power and innovation with ease. Staccato blasts are met with orchestral dissonance and the song transforms from a modest run into a seething behemoth before falling away to silence. It’s final segment, a volume swell that brings “What I Want” roaring back to life for a brief moment, is the final stroke of genius in what firmly stands as one of 2017’s most captivating releases, reaffirming that every second of “What I Want” is worth exploring.
Listen to “What I Want” (and watch the band run through the song at CMJ 2015) below and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.
Back when Cende was just starting out, I was fortunate enough to hear some of the early mixes of what would become the band’s first EP, an astonishing work that still only hinted at the depths of the band’s talents. Comprised of members of Porches, LVL UP, Normal Person, and a whole host of others, the quartet’s built up a staggering pedigree over the years. Now, over three years into starting the project, the band’s finally gearing up for the release of their forthcoming full-length, #1 Hit Song, and have selected “Bed” to lead the charge.
A staple of their live set for several years, “Bed” is a startlingly sharp, concise basement pop triumph. Over several conversations with the various band members, Radioactiviy always came up as a big influence and a similar sense of urgency runs through “Bed”, even while it boasts a surprisingly clean aesthetic (both in terms of instrumentation and production). In terms of lyrics, narratives don’t get much more unapologetic in their self-deprecation than the alternating resolutions of the verses, “You’ll be better off when I’m not around” and “You’ll be better off when I’m all alone,” respectively. It’s a deeply human sentiment that grounds the affair and reveals a few bruises in the process. All in all, “Bed” is a powerful opening salvo for what should prove to be one of the year’s best records.
Listen to “Bed” below (and watch the band performing it in the venue where they started) and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.