Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Mal Devisa

One Great Week, Five Great Songs

September got off to an exceptionally strong start, with the month already yielding incredible new songs from the following laundry list of artists: Lost Boy ?, Wand, Lina Tullgren, Miss World, Dead Leaf Echo, Danielle Luppi & Parquet Courts, Death By Unga Bunga, Queen of Swords, Trudy and the RomanceSLØTFACE, Partner, Suno Deko, Gleemer, TFS, After Hours Radio, Prawn, Mal Devisa, Field Medic, Ryan Koenig, Raleigh, Tough Age, Mt. Doubt, Havah, Moses Sumney, Infinity Girl, Heaters, The Fluids, Ora Corgan (x2), Aiming for Enrike, SLONK, Sales, Earl Grey, St. Vincent, Gun Outfit, Rostam, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Helio Sequence, Happy Hollows, and Silver Torches.

Somehow, despite the unreal amount of incredible tracks in that treasure trove, that was still just scratching the tip of the iceberg. Below were the five songs that leapt out most from an embarrassment of riches. Most of the names are familiar and some are acts in the midst of welcome resurgences. All of them are worth turning on and turning up, so push the volume levels up and go exploring. Enjoy.

1. Sports – Making It Right

A short while ago, Sports were hinting that their run might be over following the release of their excellent All of Something. Fortunately, as “Making It Right” makes abundantly clear, that wound up not being the case. They may even allude to that false alarm with the clever “you’re calling my bluff” line. In a little over 100 seconds, Sports proves that they’re not just back but that they’re at the absolute top of their game.

2. Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry

As Slaughter Beach, Dog, Modern Baseball‘s Jake Ewald has been releasing music that’s been on par with — or threatening to outstrip — that of his main vehicle. “”Fish Fry” is yet another deeply absorbing entry into Ewald’s solo discography. Characteristically unassuming, “Fish Fry” is as sharp as anything Ewald’s released. Putting the modern day ennui of young adulthood under the microscope, the loneliness on display in”Fish Fry” almost sounds romantic before the reality of it all sets in and it just comes across as painfully sad, enhancing the song’s already magnetic pull.

3. Magic Potion – Rest Yr Skull 

Magic Potion already have a quality EP and LP to their name and have only improved over time. The Rest Yr Skull 7″ is the next release on the table and the band have anchored it with the title track. Like a lot of bands on the consistently outstanding PNKSLM roster, the band pulls the majority of their influences from slacker punk and slacker pop movement of the ’90s, advancing the aesthetic with something intangibly modern. “Rest Yr Skull” is as fine of an example of that formula as anyone’s likely to hear all year, a charming slice of driving basement pop with an irresistible melody.

4. Bad History Month – Being Nothing

For a time, it looked as if Bad History Month may have disappeared for good. Luckily, “Being Nothing” arrived last week to dissuade anyone from that notion. A career highlight in a fascinating and deeply inventive discography, “Being Nothing” fully celebrates the oddities that have made the project’s past releases so essential. Folk-informed, noise-damaged, and utterly arresting, “Being Nothing” could not have come from anyone else. Psychedelic overtones push one of the most defiantly nonconformist songs of 2017 to even greater heights. It’s unmissable.

5. Radiator Hospital – Pastoral Radio Hit

“Pastoral Radio Hit” is the second glimpse at the forthcoming record from site favorites Radiator Hospital, whose “Dance Number” clip cracked the recent top 10 list for August. The song’s hard-charging at first blush, full of restraint at second, and brilliantly explores the dichotomy between the two at third. It’s an endlessly fascinating piece of music that lives up to its title and confirms that Radiator Hospital’s forthcoming Play The Songs You Like will be one of their discography’s most adventurous entries. Turn it up, put it on repeat, and find a new thing to love each time it winds to a close.

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

Ghost Gum – More (Stream)

ghost gum

Occasionally, there are days that underwhelm in terms of new releases. Then there are days like today, which churn out more than a dozen legitimate contenders for the headline slot and serve as reminders that we’re currently living in the best (and most accessible) time for new releases. There were incredible songs from Jack (who came a hair’s breadth away from getting a standalone post), Eric Slick, Lost Boy ?, Eyes of Love, Johanna Warren, Soft Candy, No One Mind, Peaer, Diners, Chris Farren, M. Lockwood Porter, Seeing Hands, Nots, Oldermost, Sex Stains, SubRosa, Lambchop, The Minders, Elijah Ford, Sports, and an outstanding one-off cover from site favorite Mo Troper.

Several music videos made an impressive impression as well, including new entries from the camps of Sunflower Bean, Dust From 1000 Yrs, Death Valley Girls, Uni Ika Ai, Silent Pictures, Le Boom, EL VY, WatskyAmber Arcades, and Chris Staples. Tying everything together were the full streams that were unveiled by Pleistocene, Earth Girls, Kindling, Katie Dey, Ant’lrd, and Lié.  In terms of quality, it matched an above-average week’s worth of material. Topping it all off is “More”, a near-perfect new track from Ghost Gum.

After turning some heads last year with “Again“, their contribution to a loaded 4-way split (Loose Tooth, Clique, and Mumblr rounded out the release), the quartet’s returned with a vengeance. “More” comes loaded with hooks, exhilarating moments, and genuine feeling. At every turn, the song provides something fascinating, from the tremolo picking that sets the tone of “More” to the rapid-fire hi-hat pattern to the earworm-ready bass line and guitar riff that kick the track into the fifth gear.

In less than three minutes, Ghost Gum offer a masterclass in dynamic structure, getting the most mileage possible out of a soaring chorus, a searing solo, and a compellingly muted verse that keeps everything grounded and breathes in some fractured humanity. Some aching backing vocals enhance the song’s half-haunted atmosphere to great effect and everything clicks in ways that both satisfy and induce genuine excitement.

When everything’s through, “More” stands as a song that not only lives up to the promise of its title but redefines that very same title as a winking understanding of how listeners should be feeling upon hearing the song’s final notes. Explosive without being bombastic and contemplative without dipping into tedium, “More” is a sharply crafted piece of work from a band that’s been continuously bettering themselves with each successive release. If the rest of their forthcoming release, The Past, The Future, Dwelling There Like Space, is anywhere near this good, it’ll be among the strongest releases of the year.

Listen to “More” below and download it here.

2016: The First Two Months (Full Streams)

Jawbreaker Reunion II

Now that the songs have, by and large, been brought up to the present release cycle, it only seemed fitting to turn the attention towards some of 2016’s strongest records. Since records are more time-consuming than individual songs, none of them will be featured individually in the next week. However, all of the records below are more than worthy of investment. A small handful of these even have a shot of being expanded on at the end of the year. For now, though, I’ll simply provide another list for exploration. Once again, there’s absolutely no way these can be listened to in one sitting so it may be best to just bookmark the page and return at will. From demo debuts of solo projects (Potty Mouth‘s Aberdeen Weems) to triumphant returns (Jawbreaker Reunion, photographed above) to fascinating splits (Great Thunder and Radiator Hospital) to outstanding compilations, there’s a lot to discover. Dive in below and find some new bands worth following.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Haha and then What 😉 || Margaret Glaspy – You and I b/w Somebody to Anybody || Purling Hiss – Something || Kal Marks – Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies || Two Inch Astronaut – Personal Life || Aberdeen – Blue Lemon Demos || ROMP – Departure From Venus || Lucy Dacus – No Burden || Swim Team – Swim Team || Rita Fishbone – Spilt Milk || Hothead – Hothead || Sioux Falls – Rot Forever || Past Life – EP I || Abi Reimold – Wriggling || Nice Try – Nice Try || Krafftmalerei Plagiat || Lawndry – EP || Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk – Burritos || Mal Devisa – Kiid || Kane Strang – Blue Cheese || Big Ups – Before A Million Universes || Årabrot – The Gospel || Michael Nau – Mowing || Looks Like Mountains – Quick, Before We’re All Dead! || High Waisted – On Ludlow || Sin Kitty – Softer || Rafter – A Sploded Battery || Candy – Azure || Baklaava – Dane On

Fake Boyfriend – Mercy || Axed Crown – Amnesty || Soda – Without A Head || Fucko – Dealing With the Weird || Opposites – Joon II and Got My Cough || Journalism – Faces || Sarah Neufeld – The Ridge || Great Deceivers – Ask Me About Your Strong Suits || Burnt Palms – Back On My Wall || Adult Books – Running From the Blows || Dead Stars – Bright Colors || Acid Dad – Let’s Plan A Robbery || yndi halda – Under Summer || Sheer Mag – III || Edgar Clinks – Bath w/ Frozen Cat || Tangerine – Sugar Teeth || Muncie Girls – From Caplan to Belsize || Risley – Risley || Great Thunder/Radiator Hospital – Wedding Album || Pinegrove – Cardinal || Acid Fast – Last Night on Earth || Making Fuck – Harrowing End || Nick Thorburn – Serial S2 || Fred Thomas – Minim || Dude York – Lose Control b/w Love Is || Self Defense Family – Superior || Jo Passed – Out || POP ETC – Souvenir

Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered || Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale || Art Week 2016 || Crater – Talk To Me So I Can Fall Asleep || Tuff Love – Resort || The Castillians – You & Me || Sitcom – Gig Bag || Howardian – A Smurf at Land’s End || Mass Gothic/Ex-Amazed – Split || Step Sisters – Thick || Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice. || Washer – Here Comes Washer || Titus Andronicus/Craig Finn – No Faith/No Future/No Problem || Frameworks – Time Spent || I’m An Island – Bored Days, Old Years || Wussy – Forever Sounds || Nathaniel Bellows – The Old Illusions || Keeps – Brief Spirit || Serac – Songs for the Broken Hearted || This Heel – This Heel III || Cotton Ships – Cotton Ships || Truly – Henry || Acid Tongue – The Dead Man’s Cat Walk || Dying Adolescence – Dear You, It Can’t Wait. || Proud Parents – Sharon Is Karen || Cayetana – Tired Eyes

JOYA – Surround b/w Kitsilano || The Two Tens – Volume || Leggy – Dang || Cellar Doors – Frost b/w Prism || Celebration Guns – Quitter || Quarterly – Quarterly || Hollow Hand – Ancestral Lands || Sierpien – Stench Up to Heaven || Cherry – Gloom || Relick – Twin House || Sun Dummy – Bunny || Lionlimb – Shoo || Tiny Knives – Black Haze || Chives – Drip || Chris Storrow – The Ocean’s Door || Bombay Harabee – Goldmine || Swaying Wires – I Left A House Burning || The Spook School – Binary / David Bowie Songs || Tender Defender – Tender Defender || Mozes and the Firstborn – Power Ranger || DRÆMHOUSE – Only Friends || Molly Drag – Tethered Rendering || Black Thumb – Black Thumb

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2

Girlpool I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

CMJ: Day 4 (Pictorial Review)

Palehound I

With the first two galleries now up and running, the night continues on with the third. On the fourth official day of CMJ, once again, videos of the bands were posted shortly after the official review went live. Rounding everything out is this photo gallery. Enjoy.

Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

CMJ: Day 4 Review

IMG_0057

With the fourth day of CMJ kicking off and the level of work required to keep up with the festival starting to take its toll, I slept through the alarm clock I had set to ensure I could catch LVL UP‘s early set at Palisades to kick off Exploding In Sound’s joint CMJ showcase and fourth birthday celebration. Running in just after the band had torn down left a sinking feeling that was quickly replaced with contentment as the Leapling project found its stride in a (mostly) solo set– the bassist from Dirty Dishes joined in on two songs– of gentle pop songs. Despite missing LVL UP, it was a wonderful way to sink into the day’s proceedings.

Flagland took a while to set up but even that couldn’t match the ambition or length of their new songs, which feel like a collection of fully-realized micro-punk songs condensed into a long-running, coherent whole. All of the songs the band was testing out were rooted in their dynamics and exceeded 10 minutes in length, finding intriguing ways to bridge the gaps between sections that were frequently radically different from each other, despite being housed in the same structure. Look out for their upcoming record because it’ll be one of the more fascinating releases of whatever time it arrives.

Swings, who have down-scaled their quiet aggression into something more quiet and moody offered up a set that acted as an epilogue of sorts to Flagland’s bold madness. They cycled through songs that felt tranquil but never uninteresting. Retaining the sense of mystery that made them so compelling to begin with, the band sounded confident and looked relaxed. They also provided one of the day’s most unexpected highlights by bringing out their current tourmate, Mal Devisa, to perform one of her numbers with the band backing her and Devisa delivered in full, giving a commanding one-song performance that drew what may have been the day’s loudest applause.

Dirty Dishes and Kal Marks played next, each offering different takes on off-kilter post-punk with grunge and shoegaze influences. The former opted to go the more serene route (while still making room for a few fiery moments) to tremendous effect while the latter dug deep into the sludgy darkness that permeates both genres when they’re at their most menacing. Back to back, it was an extraordinarily effective combination that established a sense of building momentum, which is a feat that a lot of lineups aim for but few ever accomplish. Both bands tested out new songs and each act had the audience’s attention held rapt. One practiced finesse while the other embraced chaos, acting as an intriguing sign of things to come.

Following Kal Marks’ explosive performance was another pairing, this one even more pragmatic: Washer and Stove. While the former’s been subsumed by the latter, they’re still their own project and have a genuinely great set of songs scheduled for release in early 2016. The vast majority of their set stuck to the new material, which is easily some of the duo’s best, while still making room for a few crowd favorites. After technical problems killed off Steve Hartlett’s guest solo towards the end of Washer’s set, he was joined by the last remaining member of Stove to lead Washer through their final songs as a quarter before they all took a break and reassembled for a Stove set.

Ostensibly a slight continuation of Hartlett’s previous project, Ovlov, his current one is making some serious moves. Even before Is Stupider‘s release, it’s clear that Stove’s harboring some of Hartlett’s career best-work and that the project contains, and is surrounded by, people who genuinely believe in this music. Crafting towering anthems of damaged hope and unwavering resiliency, it’s hard not to fiercely connect to what’s happening here, which is beginning to feel downright vital. “Wet Food“, the project’s current calling card, is one of the year’s finest songs and its best qualities are only amplified live, cultivating an unforgettable feeling of near-transcendence every time it hits (it’s one of the few songs that’s given me chills in a live setting on more than one occasion). Closing with a monstrous number that has an exhilarating outro section that stretches into forever, it’s difficult to think that this band doesn’t have huge things waiting for it, just around the wing.

Palm continued their massive 2015, which has seen them carve out a massively respected name for themselves, with another set of enviable musicianship and tight-knit chemistry. All of the band’s songs are puzzles with interlocking pieces that tend to immediately swivel into something genuinely unexpected and occasionally jarring (in the best way possible).

That kind of commitment to excessively complicated craft often leaves the players fairly confined so the transition from Palm to Greys was a startling– but welcome– one. Greys are one of the single most energetic live bands playing out on the circuit and they brought every inch of that inspired fervor to the Palisades stage where they ripped through a career-spanning set with reckless abandon, including a brand new song (“We wrote this like two days ago”, quipped guitarist/vocalist Shehzaad Jiwani) that sounded incredibly promising. It was a characteristically ferocious set that went a long way in proving that the band’s far from done.

The Spirit of the Beehive and Big Ups followed Greys, each bringing their own brand of manic energy to the Palisades stage. The Spirit of the Beehive, a five-piece, dipped into a raucous set of slacker pop songs with a surprising amount of emotion and nuance, while taking the volume back up to punishing levels. Stretching over their limited but enviable catalog, it was an extraordinary set from an act that still doesn’t seem to be getting the attention they genuinely deserve.

Big Ups, however, have been picking up plenty of attention and that focus is warranted. The band’s one of the best live acts in a city overflowing with bands trying to stake a claim to that throne but falling excessively short of Big Ups at their worst. Thankfully, that was far from the case here which saw Big Ups celebrating their own anniversary and pulling out one of the most blistering sets of the night, once again reminding everyone of their curious power.

Another act having a career-making year, Palehound, closed out the showcase with a set that prominently featured this year’s excellent Dry Food. As a few people were quick to point out, the band was playing as a trio and not as a quartet as the previous incantation of the band had been. Regardless, Ellen Kempner led her band through a set of songs that definitely managed to make an impression. Impressive musicianship abounded and the band landed every one of their blows, providing the showcase with a graceful exit.

As soon as Palehound’s set wrapped, despite not having eaten or drank anything for approximately 16 hours, I ran over to Silent Barn to catch the remainder of the Double Double Whammy showcase and got there just a song or two into what proved to be another memorable Downies set. The band, made up of various members from other great bands, was in fine form and playing with the sort of intensity you’d expect from a band that cites Radioactivity (and The Marked Men, by extension) as one of its bigger influences. Closing things out with a monumental track from their forthcoming LP, the band left the audience dancing and hungry for more.

Eskimeaux, playing out with a new bassist, quickly sated their appetites with another spellbinding set comprised of songs from O.K., which may very well be this year’s best record. Playing with their usual amount of grace, the band connected to their audience with ease, serenading them with tales of personal longing and unspeakable loss. Through it all, guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith stayed the project’s centerpiece, striking a commanding presence that always felt welcoming rather than imposing, like a warm embrace from an old friend. In that near-familial sense, Eskimeaux succeeded in playing up the communal aspects of the recently re-opened Silent Barn to heartwarming effect. Before stepping off the stage, it was abundantly clear that everyone in the audience was on her side.

Capping the day’s events off was another incredibly strong set from LVL UP, half of which run Double Double Whammy, to an adoring crowd that was clearly there to show their support for everything the band’s done. After missing them at the very start of the day, catching them closing thing down only managed to bolster an already pervasive feeling of triumph. Tearing through their discography with gleeful determination, the band led a sizable late-night crowd in massive singalongs, and affirmed their love by delivering one of the day’s most memorable sets. It was yet another perfect ending to a day that offered absolutely no reprieve. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.