Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Pavo Pavo

LVL UP – Hidden Driver (Stream)

LVL UP II

Another Tuesday, another slate of astounding new tracks fighting for a feature spot. Little Kid, Soccer Mommy, Hypoluxo, Dinowalrus, The Westerlies, Pavo Pavo, Chris Farren, The Cut Losses, YJY, Slow Mass, The Alpacas, Luxury Death, Bring Prudence, and Touché Amoré (which features a lovely, unexpected turn from guest vocalist Julien Baker) were all in on the action. As ridiculously strong as all of those were, the bulk of the attention will fall to site favorite LVL UP‘s explosive “Hidden Driver”.

Coming on the heels of “Pain“, “Hidden Driver” continues the bold expansions that the quartet’s promised for the forthcoming Return to Love. Right from the onset, “Hidden Driver” is able to assert itself as a beast of a different sort for the band, deftly combining the aesthetics that define their compellingly rough-hewn demo collections and their polished studio work. As the song begins to pick up its ferocity, a synth line becomes increasingly prominent, giving the whole affair an extra touch of vibrancy.

Guitarist/vocalist Dave Benton anchors this contribution, providing a healthy dose of his enviable songwriting gifts and applying a sense of tenacious urgency in the process. Leaning heavily on the spiritual realm for the narrative, Benton gets off one of the most memorable couplets of his career with “God is peaking, softly speaking.” It’s a moment of contemplative euphoria that bristles with life, even as it stares down the barrel of mortality.

All of “Hidden Driver” comes across as one of the most focused things the band’s ever assembled, simultaneously drawing from established patterns and a willingness to explore the unknown (a trait that manifests in both the musical composition and lyrical narrative). The band’s rhythm section has rarely sounded as aggressive as they do in the song’s vicious main section, which culminates with some of the most effective guitar work of LVL UP’s entire discography.

As “Hidden Driver” ultimately dissolves into ambient noise, the anticipation for Return to Love grows stratospheric. “Pain” and “Hidden Driver” on their own have constituted two of 2016’s strongest turn-ins while both hinting at the breadth of the quartet’s broadening scope. If the rest of the record can live up to the precedents set by the first two glimpses, Return to Love will confidently stand as one of the year’s best records. All that’s left to do is wait and put “Return to Love” on repeat.

Listen to “Hidden Driver” below and pre-order Return to Love from Sub Pop here.

Mean Creek – Forgotten Streets (Stream)

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Eulogizing someone or something you love is always a difficult task that’s fraught with intensely personal emotions, whether it be a friend, a pet, a show, or a band. In this case: site favorites Mean Creek. While the quartet certainly had their reasons to disband, it’s still a difficult loss because they filled part of an important void by maintaining genuine authenticity. Before they unplug their amps and tear down the kit one last time at a show next month with Meat Puppets and Soul Asylum, they’re providing one last gift: “Forgotten Streets”. It’s a song that encapsulates what made the band such an invigorating act from the outset and an impassioned, rousing death rattle. Before diving too far into its details, though, it’s worth taking a step back to appreciate another round of standout tracks.

Among the bands responsible for those tracks: Mean Creek member Mikey Holland’s solo project, The Dazies, providing some light in the twilight phase of his main vehicle’s career. That particular track, “Piece of My Love“, is a fiery jolt of basement pop with a healthy dose of punk attitude. Joining that song were an onslaught of other purchase-worth numbers: Martha’s jumpy “The Historian“, Moaning’s emotive “Misheard“, 100 Watt Horse’s tender “Julie“, Pet Symmetry’s kinetic “Gone, Gone, Gone (Even Further Gone)“, Dog Party’s thrashing “Peanut Butter Dream“, Pavo Pavo’s kaleidoscopic “Ran Ran Run“, and Froth’s strangely cinematic mid-tempo basement punk highlight “Turn It Off“. All of those songs are worthy of a great deal of attention and will likely wind up on similarly strong records. However, to bring them into sharper focus here would likely function as a disservice to the heart of this post: Mean Creek’s departure.

When this site first started covering Mean Creek more than a year ago, a lot of words were spent trying to deconstruct the band’s sound into individual elements because they occupied a unique platform. While their may have been bands that have succeeded in combining decades’ worth of musical cornerstones unique to popular American culture. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers are just as likely to be brought up as a potential influence as Hüsker Dü or Gram Parsons. In “Forgotten Streets”, they bring their distinct blend of those genres back to the forefront at a pace that suggests they were already taking advantage of the freedom that comes with evading the chains of industry expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Chris Keene has never sounded as enlivened as he does in the half-screamed raw-throated vocals on display here; all searing intensity and total fearlessness. Similarly, the band behind him deliver a collectively jaw-dropping performance that suggested the band still had a lot to say, making their departure even rougher.

There is some comfort to be found, though, in knowing that the band went out on top. 2014’s extraordinary Local Losers was easily the band’s most celebrated record to date and it earned that level of recognition through the band’s own conviction. Mean Creek are leaving behind an incredible body of work and “Forgotten Streets” comes off as an exhilarating victory lap. Right down to the very last words that Mean Creek will ever commit to a studio recording (a pointed plea for continuation, however brief, followed by the most intense moment of musicality the band’s ever recorded), this is a band that gave me- and so many others- something to feel good about celebrating. They’ll be missed but, hopefully, their musical legacy will last long enough to serve as inspiration to emerging bands decades down the line.

Listen to “Forgotten Streets” below and revisit the band’s enviable discography here.