Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Saddle Creek

Watch This: Vol. 74

Over the course of the past few weeks, the influx of outstanding live videos has been staggering. Last week the series was put on a brief hold due to other personal obligations but even then, there was the threat of multiple installments for that particular Sunday. Amassing those with the live clips that followed in the subsequent week brings us to this point: there’s simply too much great material to feature to justify relegating anything exceeding the limit of five to the introductory paragraph(s). With this being the case, there will be seven- yes, seven– installments of Watch This to go live throughout the day (and possibly night).

To that end, this very introduction will be running prior to volumes 74-80 to reduce the levels of overall exposition to provide an emphasis on the material at hand. Site favorites Girlpool and Waxahatchee were seemingly everywhere this week, securing multiple entries throughout this run while Faits Divers spread-out documentation of a set from Ought (another site favorite) managed to do the same. As always, each video featured is an exemplary showcase for both artist and host, covering a wide range of sounds and styles. So, as always, sit back, adjust the volume to your preferred settings, sit up straight, lean in (or back), and Watch This.

1. Girlpool (Consequence of Sound)

Over the past year, Girlpool have been experiencing a quiet, rapid ascension in notoriety thanks to a singular take on songwriting. More than just about any other band operating, the duo have established a legitimate identity that manages to feel both familiar and singular. Here, in a lovingly shot session for Consequence of Sound, they provide some insight to their process and deliver two characteristically strong performances of Before The World Was Big‘s title track and “I Like That You Can See It”. It’s a powerful reminder of their seemingly limitless strengths and a perfect document of a young band on the cusp of reaching spectacular heights.

2. Diet Cig – Harvard (Play Too Much)

There’s a joy inherent to Diet Cig‘s music that translates so effortlessly into their live presentation that practically guarantees them a Watch This feature spot every time a video surfaces. Over Easy remains one of the year’s best- and most endlessly listenable- releases, while Diet Cig’s live show continues to gain velocity. It’s an explosive combination that renders the duo one of the more exciting prospects in today’s music. Manic energy, genuine passion, and their visible love for their craft are given a defining image towards the clip’s closing minutes as guitarist/vocalist strikes a power stance, perched on the top of her amp and Noah Bowman’s bass drum, practically bursting with joy. All together, it’s the exact kind of thing this site was built to celebrate.

3. Screaming Females – Shake It Off (AV Club)

Back in the 22nd volume of Watch This, The AV Club’s Undercover series took all five spots in a featured retrospective. One of those five selections was Screaming Females‘ incendiary Sheryl Crowe cover. The band and the series recently partnered up again, the band once again applying their unlikely brand to an even more unlikely cover; Taylor Swift’s inescapable “Shake It Off”. Played (mostly) straight with a fiery verve, the standout moment- unsurprisingly- is a deviation that allows guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster to tear into a solo after a perfect breakdown. It’s one of the year’s most unexpectedly endearing moments.

4. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)

Courtney Barnett‘s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit will almost certainly hold true as one of 2015’s most delightful titles. As enjoyable as the record is, though, there are moments of arresting pathos and gravitas that appear throughout. One of the most fascinating is Barnett’s treatsie on suburban malaise; “Depreston”. Barnett recently met up with the usually-great La Blogotheque for a performance capture that manages to transcend the bulk of the series’ considerable output. Simply put: it’s unforgettable.

5. Hop Along (KEXP)

One of the year’s most welcome breakout success stories was that of Hop Along’s sudden increase in exposure, recognition, and acclaim (all of which the band’s deserved since before the release of Get Disowned). Instead of being daunted by the attention, the band seems to be thriving off it- pushing themselves to go even further. That drive’s reflected in this full session for KEXP that finds Frances Quinlan and co. front and center for a lively outdoor showcase featuring songs from both Get Disowned and 2015 Album of the Year candidate Painted Shut. As if all of that wasn’t enough reason to watch (and the fact that the band’s live show’s been so powerful that they’ve been a staple of this series since it started), this set also features a back-to-back pairing of “Waitress” and “Tibetan Songs”, which will always be a moment far too perfect for words.

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.

Hop Along – Texas Funeral (Stream)

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Over the past year-and-a-half I’m not sure any band at this point has come up in coverage without snagging a headline feature than Hop Along. While they’ve appeared in various Watch This installments and a handful of mixtapes (including the best-of for 2015’s first quarter), they’ve never actually had an individual focus piece. That changes today. First, though, as was earlier relayed, are ten songs to have emerged this April that are absolutely worth hearing. Among them: Grounders’ psych-pop dream “No Ringer“, Saul Williams’ characteristically vicious “Burundi“, Honey Radar’s tantalizingly lo-fi “Per Schooner Agro“, Cyberbully Mom Club’s hazy new demo “Make Time“, and Vomitface’s pummeling post-punk number “Never Make It“. In addition to those five there was Diamond Youth’s powerpop rave-up “In the Clouds“, Wild Yaks’ defiantly triumphant “Paradise“, Estates’ searing “Not Now“, The Holy Circle’s mesmerizing “Basel (About What Was Lost)“, and site favorites Vaadat Charigim‘s typically extraordinary “Hashiamum Shokea“. While all of those deserve a slew of plays, it’s high time to give Hop Along their proper due and “Texas Funeral” provides the perfect opportunity.

After making a memorable impression on the DIY circuit and cultivating a small but extraordinarily passionate following, the band signed to Saddle Creek for the release of their forthcoming record, Painted Shut. The lead-up to the record’s been extremely promising with both songs preceding “Texas Funeral”- “Powerful Man” and “Waitress“- easily ranking among the year’s very best. “Texas Funeral” joins their company with a practiced finesse that even furthers Painted Shut‘s likelihood at being something truly special, even in regards to this year’s already formidable stockpile of musical highs. The band’s last record, 2012’s staggering Get Disowned, showed glimmers of bigger things to come- hinting that the band was capable of producing a classic.

Ever since then, guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan and company have been refining their sound and delivering heartfelt sets that have occasionally taken on a monumental feel. It’s a peak that “Texas Funeral” hits again and again, emphasizing both Hop Along’s considerable growth and undeniable talent. Quinlan, in particular, sounds more assured than ever, with her vocals (sometimes sung, frequently nearly-screamed) hitting stratospheric heights. Unpredictable, exhilarating, vibrant, and unapologetically alive “Texas Funeral” makes it sound like Hop Along is in the throes of a victory lap, bringing to mind the feel and aesthetic of another Saddle Creek record on more than a few occasions- Rilo Kiley’s career highlight The Execution Of All Things (one of the best records of last decade). With an exasperated youthfulness on full display and a keen eye for life’s minutiae, Hop Along seem to have tapped into something genuinely thrilling with “Texas Funeral”- and at this point it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to expect that the rest of Painted Shut will follow suit.

Listen to “Texas Funeral” below and make sure to pre-order a copy of Painted Shut from Saddle Creek here.

Watch This: Vol. 54

With another week of predictably great live outings behind us, it’s time to look back on some of the best videos to surface in that stretch. It’s also another week were limiting the selections to five can be frustrating, as it means excluding things like S’ gorgeous KEXP session and an equally stunning set from She Keeps Bees for bandwidth. That said, the fact that those aren’t in the featured five is a particularly strong indicator for this week’s overwhelming strength. Full sets made a sizable impression and secured three spots in this series’ 54 installment while Watch This returns to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Austin City Limits session and pays a visit to a soul legend. There’s a lot of memorable material on display, all of it worthy of a serious amount of admiration. So, as always, sit back, mute the world, let all of the distractions dissolve, adjust the volume to appropriately blistering levels, relax, and Watch This.

1. PUJOL (KEXP)

PUJOL’s The United States of Being was the kind of quiet career-making record that had the potential to push the band onto the radar’s of some influential people. However, any time that happens it also heavily increases the levels of expectation for a follow-up. A contract with Saddle Creek and one excellent record later, PUJOL’s doing their best to put those doubts to rest. One thing that’s never been in doubt? The band’s ability to deliver a killer live performance, which is exactly what they turn in via this blistering (and absurdly fun) four-song set for the unfailingly great KEXP.

2. Lee Fields – Don’t Leave Me This Way (La Blogotheque)

There are few things more reassuring to see than a person being celebrated for doing something they both excel at and clearly love. In their most recent video for their acclaimed Take Away series, La Blogotheque turned their lenses on soul legend Lee Cooks delivering a powerful performance of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” to a group of appreciative bystanders, accompanied only by a guitarist. It’s a staggeringly beautiful reminder of Fields’ natural prowess as a performer and an incredible moment that was lovingly captured for everyone to visit (and revisit) for years to come.

3. Ex Hex (WNYC)

Rips was one of 2014’s best reminders of classic rock’s curious longevity. The Mary Timony-led Ex Hex specializes in creating the kind of timeless earworms that aren’t tied down to any particular scene or movement, just the band’s commitment to the project.  Here, they confidently make their way through three songs from one the year’s most carefree records for WNYC, seeming as poised as ever. Timony’s a naturally gifted leader and a charismatic vocalist, all of which ensures that no Ex Hex performance is worth overlooking.

4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (Austin City Limits)

“Jubilee Street” was one of the most mesmerizing moments on Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ latest career highlight, Push the Sky Away. Live, it takes on new life and breathes a new kind of fire with a surging outro that progressively increases the tempo. Easily one of the band’s most impressively massive live songs, the performance they delivered for Austin City Limits was predictably inspired, with Cave flying from the mic to the piano, becoming as frantic as the song itself over repeated cries of “I’m transforming; I’m flying; I’m vibrating; look at me now!”- directions that become impossible to ignore as one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of music sheds all traces of inhibition as his band urges him forward and lets him sink his teeth into yet another transcendental performance.

5. Saintseneca (KEXP)

Watch This38th entry included one of the most beautiful videos this series has ever had the pleasure of featuring; Saintseneca’s Tiny Desk Session. Unsurprisingly, the band hasn’t lost an ounce of their touch and deliver yet another brilliant performance for KEXP. Easily one of the most intriguing bands to carve out a name for themselves in 2014, their brand of subtly punk-influenced Appalachian folk helped turn Dark Arc into a very real candidate for Album of the Year. Here, the band runs through four songs and hit a series of impressive grace notes, making room for standout takes of the painfully gorgeous “Fed Up With Hunger” and the driving “Happy Alone”. All told, it’s a perfectly timed reminder of a band and record worth their acclaim.

The Thermals Release Online Video Game

One of this year’s best emerging trends may very well be the unexpected rise of the retro online video game. Okkervil River was the first to implement this with an exceptionally intelligent take on the 8-bit adventure game as part of their brilliant promotional campaign for The Silver Gymnasium. Today The Thermals have released a simplistic action game to accompany their song “The Sword By My Side” off of their Saddle Creek debut, Desperate Ground.

Thermals bassist Kathy Foster is the game’s central figure, cutting up demon bat-like creatures with her sword. Around the halfway mark, Hutch Harris and Westin Glass appear as helpful sprites to aid Kathy in her quest to defeat evil. The Sword By My  Side doesn’t take long to play and qualifies as dumb fun, an aesthetic The Thermals do wonders with (see: literally any of their music videos) and something everyone needs once in a while.

As the deadlines for year-end pieces are approaching quickly, the game also serves as a nice reminder that Desperate Ground was an unreasonably strong record and deserves to find itself in contention with many of this year’s consensus picks thus far.

Play The Sword By My Side here.