Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Platinum Girls

Watch This: Vol. 72

Once again, the candidates for this week’s Watch This– the weekly series that celebrates the best live videos to have emerged in the previous week- came in droves. At this point, it’s getting genuinely difficult to keep tabs on all of them because of the sheer number of videos (and new series) that are being unearthed. To that end, it’s almost more indicative of the featured crop’s formidable strength to list the other titles that were in contention- all of which are more than worth the click. The bands in those videos included: Bellows, Diarrhea Planet (twice), Two Inch Astronaut, Jeff Rosenstock, Mountain Bike, Vomitface, Craft Spells, and Strange Relations. Below, in this 72nd installment, the featured crop’s a little more subdued than usual but starts off with one of the most staggeringly powerful live videos to have run this year. So, as always, lean in, turn the volume up, push any lingering doubt to the side, and Watch This.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe) 

The most immediately apparent draw to Hop Along has always been Frances Quinlan’s voice. It’s a powerhouse; unforgettable after even the briefest of exposures. It’s also the kindest red herring, something that doesn’t necessarily suggest that a lot of the band’s inherent power is drawn from defiantly embracing vulnerability. For a long while, though a pairing like that shouldn’t have ended in this particular path, the band felt like a carefully-guarded secret. Now, with a universally acclaimed record and a Saddle Creek deal (the label’s strongest move in recent memory), a much larger group of people have taken notice.

Ensuring that their rapid ascension is far from over, the band have perfected their live show (it’s also why they’ve appeared on Watch This multiple times throughout this series’ run) and recently set up camp in World Cafe’s studio to deliver a powerful performance of Painted Shut highlight “Waitress”. Apart from exuding a transcendent gracefulness throughout “Waitress” (easily a song of the year candidate), there’s a moment that occurs at about the 2:20 mark that is the precise kind of breathtaking moment that Watch This was built to celebrate. With nothing but grace notes and limitless passion, this is as good as this series gets. Watch it below.

2. John Davey – Sugarmask (Cozy Couch Sessions)

Another artist that’s made a handful of Watch This appearances is singer/songwriter John Davey, whose brand of deeply humane folk has always resonated with a casual finesse. Davey recently stopped by to deliver a heartfelt  performance of a new song entitled “Sugarmask”, which ranks as yet another stunner in already enviable collection of songs. Poignant and endearing, “Sugarmask” is an arresting song and it’s given about as strong of a showcase imaginable through this clip.

3. Mikal Cronin (KEXP)

MCIII has proven to be a little more divisive among critics than expected, with one of the most levelheaded assessments coming from Sloan’s Jay Ferguson in a very balanced piece for The Talkhouse. After Cronin’s monumental MCII (my personal Album of the Year pick for 2013), that uncertainty on something as ambitious as MCIII should probably have been expected. It’s telling, though, that there hasn’t been much conflict over Cronin’s skills as a live performer. He’s only grown stronger as the shows played under his own name accumulate and that continuously building confidence is brought to full-bloom in a gorgeous session for KEXP. While the songs may lose some of their grandeur without the sweeping string and brass sections (which were all arranged by Cronin, who plays most of the instruments on MCIII), they gain quite a bit of punch in a more traditional set-up. All in all, the whole thing operates as a decisive reminder that Cronin’s still one of the most gifted pop songwriters working today.

4. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)

Gabrielle Smith’s Eskimeaux project recently released what will undoubtedly stand as one of the year’s most beautiful, unassuming records by the time 2015’s over. That record, O.K., is rooted in subtly intense personal explorations that all carry a hushed quality. “Folly” is one of the record’s most spellbinding moments as it feels like a culmination of Smith’s songwriting aesthetic. In a recent session for This Has To Got Stop, she performed it solo, perched on a chair, eyes cast down or closed, lost in the music. It’s mesmerizing. It’s also worth noting that Smith nearly appeared in this installment twice, once here, and once as a part of Bellows‘ incredible NPR Tiny Desk session (which is also deserving of several watches).

5. Tom Waits – Take One Last Look (Late Show With David Letterman)

Over the years, David Letterman has championed young, emerging punk bands to a heartening degree while maintaining great relationships with musical icons. One of the most notable partnerships in the latter category was Letterman’s connection with Tom Waits, who honored the departing host with a new song, “One Last Look”. With the pedigrees of both men at an incredibly visible and highly respected level, a move like this had all of the makings of a classic late-night moment and it didn’t disappoint. Waits honored Letterman with the most tender of farewells, accompanied by accordionist Gabriel Donohue and bassist Larry Taylor, Waits delivered the kind of timeless, dusty Americana that made Mule Variations an instant classic. Inherently powerful and extraordinarily moving, “Take One Last Look” is something that deserves to be remembered.

Watch This: Vol. 44

Welcome to a late-night installment of Watch This, the 44th in the weekly series that celebrates the best live performances to surface in the previous week. This time around, there’s a split between full sets, late night performances, and DIY presentations that all include bands that have previously earned themselves features (or extended mentions) on this site. Whether it’s another jaw-dropping full set from White Lung or a revitalized Death From Above 1979 diving headfirst into their single, these are all worth watching. Normally Watch This is posted much earlier on Sunday, so in the spirit of today’s delay, the featured videos get darker in atmosphere as they progress. Day turns to night and Volume 44 gets to lay claim to five great performances. So, sit back, relax, take a drink, ease up, and Watch This.

1. Death From Above 1979 – Trainwreck 1979 (The Late Show with David Letterman)

The Physical World, Death From Above 1979’s long-awaited follow-up to the classic You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, may have disappointed a few people with absurd expectations. Most of them were hung up on their own projections of what they thought the band should be instead of letting them come out of hibernation to evolve naturally. It’s hard to think that any of them would be disappointed by a performance like this one, which winds up being part of a late surge of memorable talk show performances.

2. Benny the Jet Rodriguez – Alley Cat (Razorcake)

Is the sound on this the greatest? No. Does it need to be? Same answer. Is this a great take on a great song from a great record? Absolutely. Does the combination of logos, titles, and credits make it difficult to definitively credit? Extremely. How are more people not talking about Benny the Jet Rodriguez and Home. Run? That’s impossible to say- but it needs to change. When should that change start? Right now. Does every city deserve a venue like VLHS? Definitely.

3. Diarrhea Planet (KEXP)

Diarrhea Planet may have released a very good record the other year that holds up as a standalone piece but their reputation was almost entirely built by virtue of their excitable live shows. This KEXP session goes a long way in confirming any of the uninitiated’s suspicions that they have a penchant for the irreverent and wild- and that’s all that really needs to be said. Just watch the video.

4. White Lung (unARTigNYC) 

This isn’t the first full White Lung set to earn itself a feature on Watch This. Hell, it’s not even the first one that comes courtesy of unARTigNYC. All that said, the band keeps managing to get better, a feat of borderline absurdity considering they’re already one of the better live acts out there today. Easily the best-looking and best-sounding White Lung set to find its way onto Watch This, their recent set at Palisades found them in their fieriest form (especially after a very tense moment towards the start of the set that found vocalist Mish Way pushed to the point of physically accosting and ultimately ejecting an audience member)- absolutely laying waste to a selection of songs that leaned heavily on 2014 standout Deep Fantasy. Even if the whole set was emotionally charged thanks to the severely unfortunate circumstances, it provided a handful of thrilling moments and cemented White Lung’s status as one of today’s most exciting bands.

5. Nothing (KEXP)

Nothing are notorious for eardrum-obliterating volume levels when they play live, which seems fitting for a band so prone to relentless heaviness. Here, they hold nothing back and give KEXP one of the station’s more memorable sessions- creating an entrancing sprawl that sides towards the heavily atmospheric. Guilty of Everything was a high point of mid-2014 and is well-represented here. Apart from a few fairly awkward interview exchanges (which is probably putting it mildly), the individual song performances are weirdly mesmerizing. All in all, it’s hard to ask for a better way to cap off another great week of documented live music.

Attendant – Freaking Out (Review, Stream)

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By now, everyone who has iTunes should have heard the full stream they’re offering up of Death From Above 1979’s revitalized post-reunion effort, The Physical World. Hopefully, there were a few among that crowd who also found time to stream Nervous Like Me the fantastic new record from Cayetana. Great full album streams weren’t the only things to come out of the last few days, though, in addition to a memorable Pavement cover from PAWS, there were also great new songs from Purling Hiss, Nude Beach, and WULFS. Visually, there was an endearing The Adventures of Pete and Pete homage from Diarrhea Planet and two arresting black-and-white clips that came courtesy of Girl Band and Philadelphia’s Queen Jesus.  It’s another act from Philadelphia that made the strongest impression and earned the feature spot today, though: the the stunning debut effort of Radiator Hospital bassist Jon Rybicki’s collaborative project, Attendant.

It’s not uncommon to note that there’s an absurd amount of great music out there that’s overlooked for any number of reasons but it’s always nice to know that sometimes everything lines up and music that may have otherwise gone unnoticed gets an extra push thanks to the people involved. This especially stands true for Attendant’s Freaking Out which features contributions from a murderer’s row of Philadelphia/NYC-based musicians. Mikey Cantor, Radiator Hospital, and Swearin’ (among others) all get a good bit of representation here, lending their considerable talents to one hell of a debut, helping raise an emerging musician’s profile in the process. Rybicki grounds all of these songs with no shortage of gravitas and conviction, mining similar influences to the ones that are so clearly evident in his friends’ projects.

While all of that would likely have proven more than enough to get Freaking Out by, what really puts it over the top is its attention to detail. The production, sequencing, and mastering on this is near-flawless, advancing the release’s personality without being distracting. In terms of composition, it’s frequently thrilling, with songs like the hard-charging “Saturday” providing bursts of near-uncontrollable energy. With all of this taken into account, it’s probably not too surprising that one of Freaking Out‘s closest relatives seems to be Dinosaur Jr.’s classic Bug. Acoustic guitars often provide a base template for each of these seven songs, while shoegaze-leaning levels of reverb and distortion get added to create a sound that’s becoming increasingly prominent in DIY punk circles- one that recognizes the value of looking to the past to push ahead.

That retro-influenced modernity goes a long way in informing Freaking Out, which makes no qualms about utilizing everything at it’s disposal. Every song on here contains at least a few moments of genuine brilliance, whether in the form of lyrics (“I just wanted to be the other people on the bus” is one of the most haunting lines to come out of 2014) or in the song’s structures or compositions. As if all that weren’t enough, it’s varied enough to ensure the listener’s attention and compelling enough to warrant their investment. None of these songs ever eclipse the three minute mark, either, rendering it even more accessible.Yet, despite it’s short run-time, Freaking Out feels like a fully-formed work from a veteran songwriter.

More than a few critics have said that to really gauge an album’s strengths, there should be an extra amount of consideration given to their mid-section. It’s easy to make strong opening and closing cases but it can be difficult to maintain that consistency across a wider spread. In this respect, Freaking Out has virtually no issues. “Dishwasher”, “Call Me Back”, and “Solar Shack” are all mixtape-worthy entries, each holding their own strengths in Rybicki’s frequently mid-tempo world weariness. Even with that taken into consideration, it’d be difficult not to note that a few of Freaking Out‘s best moments do come in the final two songs. From the trumpet-assisted downstroke onslaught of “I Won’t Try to Change Your Mind” to the guest-heavy celebration that is the record’s finale.

In that respect, “Wax Pages” does feel like an appropriate end-cap to a release that seemed determined to extol the virtues of healthy collaboration. Jeff Bolt (of Swearin’ and Radiator Hospital) takes over on drums, Sam Cook-Parrott (Radiator Hospital), Cynthia Schemmer (also of Radiator Hospital), and Kyle Gilbride (of Swearin’) all handle backing vocals, while Mikey Cantor takes a solo and all of them seem maniacally driven by Rybicki, who lent his vocals, guitar work, and bass (in spots) to the songs he wrote. To that end, it almost feels celebratory despite it’s heaviness (and make no mistake, this is a relatively heavy record in both terms of sound and subject matter). Packaged all together, the end result is something that feels oddly alive and utterly unique, even with an army of recognizable influences worn proudly on its sleeve. If it doesn’t find a home on one label or another, it’ll come as a shock. Freaking Out is one of 2014’s best surprises.

Stream Freaking Out below and download it on Attendant’s bandcamp.