Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Shoegaze

Toby Coke – Face Taker (Stream)

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Over the past few days, the truly great single song offerings have been fairly scant. Sure, there was another career-high effort from Crying and another outstanding entry in Art Is Hard’s Pizza Club series- but apart from the monstrous Two Inch Astronaut slow-burner (more to come on that in a short while), the well seemed to have been fairly tapped. Enter: Toby Coke. Back in December, this site ran a “Best Of” that included some extremely low-key releases, like the solo venture from The Frankl Project drummer (and occasional vocalist) Joseph Frankl. That solo venture, BREAKERS, was seeped in impact-heavy shoegaze that proved tantalizing enough to stand out from a lot of other artists operating in that genre.

Now, Frankl’s changed guises and switched over to Toby Coke, an equally promising project. “Face Taker” is the first look at the new project and it’s a masterfully composed stunner. Written about the extremely controversial Monsanto corporation, it also immediately aligns Toby Coke’s politics with other commendably active, difference-making artists. “Face Taker” itself is a lo-fi, mid-tempo, shoegaze-leaning post-punk gut-punch. Intensely melodic and completely unapologetic in its viciousness, there isn’t a moment that goes by without a noteworthy hook or a clever turn of phrase. It’s too impossibly great to ignore and ranks among the year’s best songs; a gut-punch thrown from the ether. Don’t let it pass by without the attention it deserves.

Listen to “Face Taker” below and purchase it at bandcamp, with all proceeds going to The Edible Schoolyard Project.

Ovlov – Ohmu Shell (Stream)

A steady stream of streams flooded most of today’s music news and several of them wound up making strong impressions. Among them were Girlpool’s jittery “Blah Blah Blah“, Bad Power’s hardcore ripper “Jawws“, and Cellphone‘s Halloween-friendly post-punk nightmare “Human Rights“. Nothing continued to improve in exhilarating fashion, hitting a new high with the damaged beauty of “July The Fourth and YAWN bandleader Adam Gil’s new solo project- Dam Gila- offered up the tantalizing pysch-pop of “History“. Mineral’s vocalist, Chris Simpson, streamed Pink Chalk, the lilting record that’s due out soon from his Zookeeper project. Joel Jerome followed up the excellent Babies On Acid with Psychic Thrift Store Folk, which is now streaming in full over at Wondering Sound- a site that also has the distinct pleasure of hosting a full stream of Night School’s Heart Beat EP (which is easily one of the year’s best).  Then, of course, there was Ovlov‘s newest song- the second to be released from the jaw-dropping four-way split 7″ that also includes Krill, LVL UP, and Radiator Hospital.

All four bands on this split have earned the distinction of site favorites thanks to their punk-leaning strains of outsider pop. This will be the latest in a handful of releases born out of the collaboration between Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound, which continues to be one of the most exciting things in music. Krill’s “Peanut Butter” had already been unleashed on the world a few weeks back and kicked the obvious promise of the split up a few additional levels. Ovlov take that level of acceleration and floor it, not only offering up one of the best songs of their career but- impossibly- lending even more promise to the split. “Ohmu Shell” is a song that sounds like an assurance; this is a confident band who are fully aware of their identity (something many strive to achieve and fail to accomplish).  There’s a greater immediacy on display then there was on last year’s excellent am and continues their streak of incredible contributions to splits (Little Big League being the latest, following another four-way split with Ex-Breathers, Gnarwhal, and Woozy)- all from this year.

Every time the band steps up to deliver something new, it seems like they’re continuously improving upon their career-best, which is the kind of trajectory that can speak volumes about a band’s potential. Everything about “Ohmu Shell” works to perfection; the guitars charge as much as they swirl, the vocals manage to be alternately impassioned and apathetic- creating a contrast that injects the song’s explosive moments with an obscene amount of energy. There’s a greater emphasis on a skewed 90’s revivalism that’s deeply rooted in the slacker and outsider sub-genres of punk. Ovlov sounds more alive than ever, wide-eyed, determined, and prepared for anything that dares to come their way. If LVL UP and Radiator Hospital deliver on this level (which they’re both fully capable of, considering both of their full-lengths are locks for this site’s Top 10), this split just might be the best thing to come out of 2014.

Listen to “Ohmu Shell” below and pre-order the split from from Double Double Whammy here.

Allah-Las – Follow You Down (Music Video)

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Another day down, another great batch of streams and videos to show for it. First off: a full record stream from The Growlers, who have a career-best on their hands with Chinese Fountain. Representing the music video side of things, there was YAWN’s fascinating video for “Flytrap” and then a whole host of great single song streams. New Orleans duo Caddywhompus started to gain some attention on the back of “Stuck“, Glish made a deep impression with their towering “Pretty Car“, and Radical Dads carved out a place for themselves with the jumpy “In the Water“. Sonic Avenues’ second exclusive track for the deluxe version of their classic self-titled surfaced, as did great brand-new songs from FF, Doe, and Allo Darlin‘. However, despite all those great candidates for a feature, there was one thing that kept creeping back up; Allah-Las music video for “Follow You Down”.

From the immediate outset, it becomes apparent that “Follow You Down” isn’t going to be overtly conventional. Mixing the band’s trademark 60’s garage-grit revivalism with a quasi-Western, the video coaxes as much intrigue out of that contrast as possible. With both mediums emphasizing the lo-fi (and the low-key) aspects of the band’s presentation, things in the Sasha Eisenman-directed clip get fairly ridiculous pretty quickly- but that doesn’t stop it from being compelling or losing any momentum. The actual story in the video’s a fairly straightforward narrative that plays out, in full accordance with their chosen style, like a great Western- right down to the quietly tragic/humorous ending. “Follow You Down” on its own was a fun rock n’ soul-tinged throwback but the video manages to give it new life. All in all, it’s an absolute blast and goes quite a ways in proving that sometimes the best videos come out of a band letting their guard down and allowing themselves to have fun.

Watch “Follow You Down” below and order the just-released Worship the Sun (which “Follow You Down” is taken off of) over at Allah-Las’ bandcamp.

Medicine – Move Along – Down the Road (Stream)

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Another day, another string of great releases to cover before moving on to the day’s main event. Among them: a full stream of the sublime split 12″ from Joanna Gruesome and Trust Fund,  a full stream of Terry Malts’ hard-charging Insides EP, and a characteristically incendiary performance from White Lung that also doubles as the official video for Deep Fantasy highlight “I Believe You“. Even with all of those being more than worthy of their own individual features, there was one song that surfaced today which managed to make a surprisingly large impression: Medicine’s “Move Along – Down the Road”.

Ever since Medicine’s surprise comeback record last year, To the Happy Few, they’ve been forcing their audience to re-adjust their expectations. Not that this is a bad thing; they’ve blown nearly all of those expectations out of the water. That trend looks like it’ll continue with their upcoming record Home Everywhere. After the multi-color swirl of lead-off single “Turning” suggested the band might be indulging their more psychedelic impulses, their most recent look at Home Everywhere confirms that with an even greater authority. “Move Along – Down the Road” is a near-claustrophobic cacophony that plays like a pissed-off, alternate world version of Andorra-era Caribou. In short: it’s a thrilling, fascinating, whirlwind of a song that hints towards Home Everywhere becoming one of 2014’s most widely celebrated releases. Medicine seems to be emphasizing their more cinematic sensibilities this time around and it suits their left-field shoegaze to tailored perfection.

Listen to “Move Along – Down the Road” below and pre-order Home Everywhere from iTunes here (all pre-orders will including the accompanying soundtrack to shoegaze documentary “Beautiful Noise“).

Nano Kino – Eyes Before Words (Music Video)

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Since the majority of the start of this week was spent on the road, it’s been difficult to be as vigilant about keeping up with the new music and videos that have been coming out. Today, that changed and the amount of great content is almost overwhelming. Every single one of the items that are going to be hyperlinked following this sentence are worthy of being the feature item. Those include full album streams from Mumblr and Sleepyhead (their first in 15 years), and a stream of Parquet Courts and Future Punx’s split 7″. There were excellent music videos from Death From Above 1979, Lace Curtains, and Brick Mower. Most of all, though, there were great new songs. Cut Teeth offered up a post-hardcore ripper, Ovlov provided a tantalizing glimpse at their upcoming 4-way split with Ex-Breathers, Woozy, and Gnarwhal. There was a smoky piece of folk-psych from Mail the Horse, a new Pity Sex song that ranks among the best of the year and teases an upcoming split with Adventures (it’s also their career-best), a new look at an upcoming EP from the increasingly popular Girlpool, a fiery Stereolab cover from Greys, another indicator that Dark Blue’s Pure Reality will be one of the year’s best records, another gentle piece of bliss from Eternal Summers, a snappy piece of riff-happy outsider pop from Little Big League that- like the Pity Sex song from just a few hyperlinks ago- ranks among the year’s best, another incendiary look at Meatbodies’ upcoming record on In the Red, and a brand-new career highlight for King Tuff. That’s one hell of a haul.

All of those are likely to get features elsewhere- if they haven’t already had them (and most have)- and Heartbreaking Bravery would be nothing if it wasn’t for the bands that are flying under the radar. Those are the kind of bands that this place strives to support- and Nano Kino (which translates to “very small cinema”) is one of them. And while the duo does include Duncan Lloyd of Maximo Park (and Decade in Exile), their profile’s currently surprisingly contained- which isn’t likely to last too long. There are chilly atmospheres that permeate throughout the duo’s music, using no-wave and post-punk as their major touchpoints while exuding an icy demeanor not too far removed from The xx. A lot of the band’s intrigue gets an extra push thanks to the mysterious vocal performances of Sarah Surl, the duo’s other member. While there’s still a considerable sense of mystery to be found in the textured guitar work that Lloyd provides, Surl gives it a strange sense of humanism that allows Nano Kino to eclipse so many similarly-minded acts.

Nano Kino currently have plans to release their debut record in the early parts of next year but have promised to tease pieces of the record in the lead-up campaign. One of the first pieces they’ve offered up is a visually stunning black-and-white clip that emphasizes the band’s penchant for noir-ish sensibilities. Bringing in other visual aesthetics to the fold (there’s a prominent French new wave influence running throughout this- as well as a lot of glances towards Spain’s golden-era of silent film), “Eyes Before Words” winds up being a quietly intense experience. Using grainy superimposed imagery (that’s occasionally stripped back to isolation) to maximum effect helps make this a video that stays with the viewer long after the final whispers of the fade-out. It’s unrelentingly poised and announces Nano Kino as a band that’s embraced a very particular vision- one that could wind up meriting critical and commercial success. Whatever the future does hold for Nano Kino, it’ll be a pleasure watching them fight their way forward- especially if the ensuing releases all manage to be as arresting as “Eyes Before Words”.

Watch “Eyes Before Words” below and keep an eye on this site for updates in the coming months.

Watch This: Vol. 43

It’s almost hard to believe that there have been 43 weeks since the first installment of Watch This was posted. Over the course of that time, this series has boasted a variety of recurring staples, one of the earliest of which being the “Band/Artist to Watch” segment that was devoted to the fifth and final slot. After being dormant for the vast majority of the series, that particular stamp re-emerges today in anticipation of an incredible release from an artist that’s been too-frequently described as a “best kept secret”. Along with the re-emergence of that sub-series, there’s a return to Little Elephant, a look at NPR’s Field Recordings series, yet another video to be featured from Exploding in Sound’s takeover of Serious Business, and a recent portrait of a band that doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. What it all winds up amounting to is one strange, wonderful capsule that explores some of the finest artists of the moment delivering performances worth remembering. So, sit back, turn the volume up, adjust the visual settings to personal preference, take a drink of something refreshing, focus, and Watch This.

1. Benjamin Booker – Have You Seen My Son? (NPR)

It’s been said before on this site a few times but it bears repeating: Benjamin Booker absolutely tore his set up at the Horseshoe Tavern at NXNE back in June. His debut self-titled record on ATO lived up to some fairly high expectations, revealing him as an extremely worthwhile new talent- and while it does have a sense of vulnerability, it’s usually buried underneath gnarled tones and emphatic gruffness. Here, Booker strips standout single “Have You Seen My Son?” to its barest form; an acoustic ballad. Add in some gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of NPR, and it’s required viewing.

2. Mitski – First Love / Last Spring (Bandwidth)

Every once in a while, there’s an artist that manages to appear on a variety of trustworthy sources but, for some reason or another, gets overlooked or forgotten. Mitski had the misfortune of falling to the latter category a few times this year by virtue of coming up on days that were already ridiculously over-filled with content. After seeing the light perfection that is this utterly enchanting performance of “First Love / Last Spring”, it’s difficult to not want to go back and ensure the mistake of overlooking them was never made to begin with. “First Love / Last Spring” is as sweet of a song as anyone’s put out this year. So, to Mitski: sorry for being late to the party but thanks for sticking around; life’s better with this music in it.

3. Shy, Low – Saudade (Little Elephant)

There haven’t been too many Little Elephant videos to appear that warranted consideration for the Watch This series since Mansions’ thrilling two-song set from way back in May. Fortunately, Shy, Low have provided enough water to make up for that particular drought. “Saudade” is a fascinating mixture of shoegaze, post-rock, golden-era emo, math, and a cavalcade of their connected fringe sub-genres. Every note gets played with investment and commitment while still being technically impressive, which is a medium that a lot of bands strive for but few ever achieve so concisely. “Saudade” is the perfect example of the more aggressive kind of music that’s incredibly easy to get lost in.

4. Baked (BreakThruRadio)

At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that if a video emerges from the Exploding in Sound takeover of BreakThruRadio’s Serious Business series, it will wind up being featured here. Virtually all of them have been nothing short of praise-worthy and Baked’s session continues that trend with ease. Baked themselves have come ridiculously close to landing feature spots on this very site numerous times for their eccentric take on some of this place’s most-frequented genres. In their session, those eccentricities are on full display in both their interview segments and their live form, making for some incredibly compelling viewing.

5. John Davey – Grand Emporium (Xack Gibson)

There are certain performances that manage to stick with a person and John Davey’s capable of delivering them. That’s said with no shortage of authority, having seen Davey deliver a solo acoustic set in a small WI basement to next to no one only a handful of years back. It was a relatively truncated set but it’s proven to be unforgettable thanks to the spellbinding nature of the songs. This being the case, the “Artist to Know” final slot section of Watch This is being revived to feature a gorgeous  black-and-white video that features Davey performing one of his most impressive songs: “Grand Emporium”. Not too much has changed since this video was shot four years ago; Davey’s songwriting remains as nuanced and gripping as ever while allowing some subtle growths in terms of production. All that can be heard on Davey’s sophomore effort, Living Is Trying, which can (and should) be pre-ordered from Dilated Time Records here. “Grand Emporium” also provides a good platform to give this reminder: Heartbreaking Bravery would be nothing without DIY ethos and the artists that embody them across a variety of genres and fields. If a song in a genre that’s not typically covered here manages to come off as transcendental and provides an opportunity to feature an extremely impressive emerging talent, it will get featured. Here’s one of those songs- and one of those talents.


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.

Watch This: Vol. 42

Well, another week has come and gone, leaving a great set of live sets in its wake. From a pair of performance pairs courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel Live, another extraordinary edition to the Exploding in Sound takeover of BreakThruRadio’s excellent Serious Business series, a newly-surfaced trio of beautifully-lensed performance clips from Pitchfork, and a typically incendiary blast to the gut from one of Canada’s finest emerging artists, it was a great week for the long-form. There were, of course, a few other excellent videos that surfaced over the course of the past seven days- ranging from an excellent KEXP session from The Fresh & Onlys to performances that had personal stakes at hand (more on this tomorrow). There was a lot more to take in than usual but the five sets below earned their spots by virtue of approaching the transcendental. So, kick back, don’t dare turn the volume down, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Greys (Radio K)

Greys tore it up every time they took the stage during the whirlwind week that was NXNE. They’ve earned a fair amount of words from this site by not just making great music but by putting on great performances- and, in both cases, revealing a visible passion for what they’re doing- an increasing rarity. Here, they stop by the University of Minnesota’s student-run radio station, Radio K, to deliver a non-stop barrage of a performance. Turn the volume up and hold on to yr lid.

2. Sharon Van Etten (Jimmy Kimmel Live)

Are We There has proven to be one of the year’s most engaging quieter records and has firmly established Van Etten at the forefront of her contemporaries. It’s a welcome development that feels as if it’s been justifiably earned. Van Etten was a force to be reckoned with right out of the gate, delivering performances like this attention-ensuring take of “Give Out” for BaebleMusic or lending even more emotional gravity to one of the most emotionally charged records of all time. So, after keeping an eye on Van Etten’s progress for the past six years or so, it’s thrilling to see her commanding as much attention and acclaim as she over the past few years. With more performances like these two stunning takes on “Tarifa” and “Break Me”, that critical and commercial ascension’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

3. Slowdive (Pitchfork)

Slowdive was one of the more quietly celebrated shoegaze bands before their recent revival, allowing others to catch up on what many had known all along; this is a band worth holding onto. When Pitchfork announced that the band would be playing on US soil for the first time in over 20 years, there was reason for nonsensical levels of excitement. Not only did Slowdive meet those ridiculous levels of expectations, they temporarily turned the festival grounds into something completely undefinable. There wasn’t a set that weekend that inspired more looks of sheer awe.  Fortunately, Pitchfork has their cameras rolling and lovingly documented a moment that’s not likely to be forgotten by anyone lucky enough to take part in it anytime soon.

4. Bob Mould (Jimmy Kimmel Live)

That Bob Mould is still cranking out masterful records probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering his enviable track record of all-time classics (Zen ArcadeNew Day RisingCopper Blue, etc.). What does come as a welcome surprise is the commercial success he continues to maintain throughout what’s proving to be one of the more inspired solo resurgences since Dinosaur Jr.’s. Jimmy Kimmel recently invited Mould onto his show and received a masterclass in how to deliver great performances in return. With the serviceable Taylor Hawkins standing in for the inimitable Jon Wurster, Mould more than proves it only takes one revered elder statesman to carry the hell out of a live show.

5. Pile (BreakThruRadio)

The Exploding in Sound takeover of BreakThruRadio’s Serious Business has yielded some of the series’ best entries. Pile continuing this trend shouldn’t be that shocking- the band’s currently boasting one of the most impressively consistent discographies in music. Special Snowflakes was one of the year’s best releases in any format, Dripping and Magic Isn’t Real both deserve to be considered classics, and somehow the band’s live show manages to blow the studio versions of those songs out of the water. “Tin Foil Hat” is the featured song here while both “Special Snowflakes” and “Fear of Drunk With” are intercut with some humorous banter about their long-standing issues with one specific city. Packaged together, this becomes absolutely essential viewing material.

Night School – Birthday (Stream)

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It’s very rare that a song comes along in the middle of the night and manages to be so good that it warrants an immediate write-up. There’s no accounting for what kind of material will emerge over the next 24 hours but if any of it manages to be better than Night School’s “Birthday”, rest assured, it will get a write-up at some point. That said, it’d be criminal not to feature “Birthday”, an explosive pop-indebted shoegaze tune that comes courtesy of Graveface Records.

Before going any further, some exposition should be noted: one of the three members of Night School, who will be releasing their debut EP Heart Beat on October 7, used to be in Whirr. While there are similarities between the two acts, they only run at surface level. Night School’s latched onto something that feels new; a welcome expansion in the increasingly accommodating field of shoegaze sub-genres. There are shades of Phil Spector interwoven with sounds that pull from all over both his catalog and the continuously evolving field of DIY punk. Thankfully, this doesn’t result in “Birthday” sounding like a complete and total mess- instead it gets presented as some kind of damaged dream that Alexandre Morte and the rest of her band are desperate to hold on to. Battered guitars create a wall of sound that’s as lush as it is intimidating, the rhythm section powers everything forward with gnashing teeth, and the vocals are practically floating as they create an introspective atmosphere that, impossibly, contrasts and complements the sonic chaos taking place beneath. It’s a gorgeous, towering piece of work that should turn a lot more heads in the days to come. If the rest of Heart Beat winds up being this good, Night School may just be on the verge of releasing something truly great.

Listen to “Birthday” below and take part in Graveface’s intriguing “glorified pre-order” kickstarter campaign here.