Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: stream

Mike Krol – An Ambulance b/w Never Know (7″ Review, Stream)

A few weeks ago site favorite Mike Krol returned with the typically explosive “An Ambulance“, the songwriter’s first release since Turkey (apart from a well-deserved deluxe reissue). “An Ambulance” more than proved Krol hasn’t lost a step in the interim, flaunting all of the characteristics that made his early work scintillating enough to snag the attention of Merge, who wisely added the basement pop auteur to their roster. An Ambulance b/w Never Know finds the label continuing to reap the benefits of that decision, which offers up two incredible tracks that are as infectious as they are aggressive.

With “An Ambulance” already given due credit (click the link above to go to the previous feature), “Never Know” gets the bulk of the attention here. It’s a song that finds Krol tapping further into the strain of pop music that defined the ’50s, which is an area that was effectively mined by contemporaries — and frequent collaborators — Sleeping in the Aviary. It’s a side Krol’s music doesn’t always feature but one that’s consistently worked to the material’s benefit, which is decidedly the case on “Never Know”, an outrageously fun track with a classic spin.

Together, “An Ambulance” and “Never Know” constitute one of the year’s best standalone 7″ releases and offer a tantalizing glimpse towards a more comprehensive project that Krol’s been hinting at in recent weeks. Strap in for the ride and use this as the soundtrack in the getaway car. Whenever the next stop arrives, this will be a stretch worth revisiting.

Listen to An Ambulance b/w Never Know below and pick up a copy from Merge here.

Dilly Dally – Sober Motel (Stream)

When Dilly Dally‘s “I Feel Free” announced the band’s return, a lot was made about how the band’s initial touring schedule and international attention nearly killed them forever. Part of this was because of the stress levels that attention necessitated and the resulting struggles that existed within the band’s makeup. Alcoholism was a vice that hit especially hard and is a subject that gets pushed to the forefront of the band’s follow-up single to “I Feel Free”, pointedly entitled “Sober Motel”.

Weathering all of those storms and fighting through life’s difficulties seems to have made Dilly Dally a stronger band, with “Sober Motel” and “I Feel Free” standing  as pillars of proof. The band can still go scorched-earth with the best of them and they’re leaning even harder into the rest-and-explode dynamic that helped them make their name. “Sober Motel” showcases this especially well, with Katie Monks unleashing one anguished howl after another (Monks’ voice remains one of the best instruments any band today has to offer) as the band provides some complementary grit. It’s a characteristically breathtaking track from an original voice that found a way to survive. We should all be grateful.

Listen to “Sober Motel” below and pre-order Heaven here.

Marbled Eye – Laughing Sound (Stream)

Taking less than a second to establish that there’s a threat of detonation is always a bold way to start a track and that brand of weaponization is fearlessly deployed in Marbled Eye‘s “Laughing Sound”, one of the best post-punk tracks of the year thus far. The quartet rides that foreboding intro into a jittery tempo that never truly explodes, the band reeling in with the kind of measured restraint that defines the genre. Yet, that lingering threat remains throughout the track’s entirety, never dissipating enough to provide a level of safety or comfort.

Constantly teetering back and forth between total annihilation and crumbling to pieces, “Laughing Sound” should serve as a remarkably perfect lead-off track for Marbled Eye’s forthcoming Leisure. A behemoth of a song as it currently stands, it’ll be fascinating to hear in the context of the record. For now, we should be more than content to just loop this one until every twist and turn’s been committed to memory.

Listen to “Laughing Sound” below and pre-order Leisure from the band here.

Alien Boy – If We Don’t Speak (Stream)

Consistently engaging and constantly intriguing, Alien Boy have been a name to watch for a while now and, if “If We Don’t Speak” is any indication, are preparing for bigger things. Not just in terms of audience but scope. Everything from the production to the arrangement style has been tweaked and “If We Don’t Speak” is comparatively towering over Alien Boy’s past releases (which remain worthy of investment). Here, the project bridges subversive pop-punk with shoegaze to an effect that’s genuinely startling.

A lot of bands in the past few years have been attempting to bridge those two genres but most haven’t come halfway close to the seamless overlapping that “If We Don’t Speak” contains. Washed-out reverb, punishing guitars, an aching melody, a bruised narrative, and a tenacious determination collide to elevate the sound to stratospheric heights that conjure a genuine feeling of awe. It’s a behemoth of a track that’s not content to just reach skyward, it’s one that successfully seizes the universe.

Listen to “If We Don’t Speak” below and pre-order Sleeping Lessons from Tiny Engines here.

 

Sonny Falls – Flies (Stream)

Over almost four minutes, Sonny Falls showcase their confidence, identity, and ability with a shape-shifting, tempo-switching rock n’ roll ripper that presents the project as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. Invoking the open-road sensibilities of forebears like Petty and Springsteen, “Flies” also sees Sonny Falls injecting that ceaselessly sprawling sweep with the hard-won wisdom that accompanies being a DIY-level band that makes a commitment to the road.

An intersection of so many celebrated rock n’ roll staples, “Flies” still manages to sound like a singular work. There’s a strain of strangeness coursing  through “Flies” at every turn, even in its most time-honored moments (no one’s likely to hear a more well-timed saxophone solo in a punk-leaning song this year), suffusing a fresh sensibility into a comforting and familiar pattern. A song worth every last second, “Flies” suggest Sonny Falls have more stories to tell. Songs like this one is what’ll keep people listening.

Listen to “Flies” below and pre-order Some Kind of Spectre from Sooper Records here.

Maxband – Means To An End (Stream)

A heartening trend that’s emerged over the past few years is that of great bands being comprised of a collection of people who are fully capable of leading a strong solo project. Parquet Courts belong firmly in this conversation, an assertion made with additional clarity on the back of the unveiling of Max Savage’s latest project, Maxband. “Means To An End” is one of the first looks at the project and offers up more than a few compelling reasons to believe Maxband will be a name worth knowing.

Parquet Courts’ influence on Savage’s project is both clear and unavoidable but there’s a layer of pop sensibility that peeks through on the chorus that feels both unexpected and incredibly welcome, elevating “Means To An End” from mere imitation to something that deserves to stand on its own. The song still operates in the kind of mid-tempo strut that Parquet Courts has been favoring of late but allows the guitar figures to become transformative, providing a glimpse at what Maxband could be bringing to the table as a solo venture, something that becomes even more plain in the song’s gorgeous outro section.

Until we know for sure, there are far worse ways to spend time than spending quality time with “Means To An End”, a promising, layered, and unexpected gem.

Listen to “Means To An End” below and pre-order Perfect Strangers here.

Dentist – Night Swimming (Album Review, Stream)

Dentist‘s name has been appearing on this site for a few years now, suggesting they’re capable of the kind of longevity most bands covet. Night Swimming, the band’s most recent album, stands as their strongest — and biggest — moment to date. Operating in the intersection between power pop and basement punk, the band’s crafted a rich, engaging work that plays to their formidable abilities as songwriters.

“Upset Words” and the title track constitute the 1-2 combo that opens Night Swimming, making the band’s penchant for hooks. dynamics, and intuitive structuring incredibly evident. It’s a combination that also familiarizes the uninitiated with Dentist’s approach, which is to pitch their work at a low-key level, opting for the kind of songwriting that draws in listeners gradually and envelops them over time. The beauty of Dentist’s work is that it barely requires patience; all of these songs register as works of understated brilliance on first listen.

From front to back, Night Swimming operates within those guidelines and works its way to an enchanting whole. It’s the kind of record no one wants to stop playing or skip through, choosing instead to revel in the smallest details. The mid-fi production accentuates the material nicely, presenting Dentist as they are: at a crossroads between their DIY roots and the increasingly tangible possibility that their work could elevate them to a recognition that vastly exceeds their earliest ambitions.

Here’s hoping this is the record that guides them to that breakthrough.

For now, just lean back and enjoy one of the best basement pop releases 2018 will have to offer.

Listen to Night Swimming below and pick up a copy here.

Clearance – At Your Leisure (Album Review, Stream)

Few bands can maintain consistency at a high level and evolve within those parameters. We’ve seen some of the biggest bands fall pray to their own hubris in unsuccessful reinventions and some smaller bands discover confidence that they didn’t realize they had after expanding their ambitions and embracing plunges into unfamiliar terrain. While Clearance doesn’t tip towards either extreme, At Your Leisure firmly suggests they may be headed towards the latter.

The band’s earlier works earned them a lot of comparisons to Pavement and those comparisons were legitimate and justifiable (which isn’t always the case when that name gets thrown out). At Your Leisure finds Clearance presenting a more confident version of themselves, a look that pays immediate dividends. The arrangements are more nuanced and the records stands as their most cohesive effort to date. While their past work still merits applause and investment, they’ve clearly hit another level.

Leaning significantly harder into jangle pop sensibilities, Clearance still holds their slacker punk roots firmly in place, allowing them to ground an incredibly winsome effort. Every song on At Your Leisure is one that’s allowed — and encourages — a patient growth, something that’s reflective of the band’s own evolution. While there are some head-turning moments scattered throughout the record (the chorus on “Destination Wedding” being the first of a handful), there’s never a cheap attempt at something designed for immediate, attention-ensnaring impact.

By utilizing a meditative pace and allowing their songs to breathe, Clearance unearth a way to provide an overarching texture on At Your Leisure that’s both fascinating and relatively uncommon. There are peaks and valleys throughout the album, to be sure, but they all act in the service of a greater whole rather than as a way to elevate an individual set piece. “Had A Fantastic” is the only track that comes close to breaking that form, which is likely why it was released as an advance single; the song’s urgency and insistence inject a significant amount of life into the record but can easily stand as a self-sustaining track when removed from the record and placed on a mix — yet it still provides the pacing of At Your Leisure with a necessary kick that benefits the material that comes before and after its appearance.

None of the tracks on At Your Leisure are dull and every facet of the release seems to have been provided with a fair amount of thought. All of those elements work in its favor, allowing the record an intoxicating appeal as a legitimate record. Not a singles collection. Not a greatest hits. Not a record that was padded out. Not a record that was designed to serve a purpose beyond its existence. At Your Leisure is a true version of the classic record; a welcome curiosity in a shifting landscape that’s all but eliminated its ilk. That alone is worthy of praise. Fortunately, for everyone, the music more than backs it up.

Sit with this one. Give it room to breathe. Get lost in its spell. Then do it all over again and get inspired to make a record the way a record should be made.

Listen to At Your Leisure below and pick it up from Topshelf here.

Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost (Stream)

One of the more heartening developments in recent memory has been the return of Swearin’, the band responsible for the best demo to be released this decade, a self-titled that lived up to the demo’s promise (and then some), and an oddly moving sophomore effort. Some interpersonal difficulties led to the group shelving the project and saw guitarist/vocalist Allison Crutchfield embark on a solo project, striking up a relationship with Merge (a label that also houses Crutchfield’s twin sister Katie’s project, Waxahatchee).

The band’s making one key transition in their return, which is a welcome, familiar face on bass duties: All Dogs‘ Amanda Bartley, who very recently became an official member of the group, just in time for the band to tour their forthcoming Fall Into the Sun. “Grow Into A Ghost” is the first look at that record (which, coincidentally, will be the band’s first release for Merge) and serves as a potent reminder of why this band’s been so missed in the time of their absence.

Basement pop of the absolute highest order, the song’s anchored by Crutchfield’s emotional conviction, formidable writing strength, and thoughtful arrangement. Elevated by the members’ familiarity with a very specific vision, “Grow Into A Ghost” makes no bones about coming out swinging. It’s a hardened look ahead and a reminder of the band’s own legacy, conjuring up an incredible amount of hope for what lays in wait for the future of Swearin’.

Welcome them back by leaving this one on repeat.

Listen to “Grow Into A Ghost” below and pre-order Fall Into the Sun from Merge here.

Two Weeks, 12 Songs

The last time these two week roundups rolled around, the pace of great songs had seemingly tripled the haul of great songs and records. These past two weeks have been even more fruitful, leading to a quadrupling rather than a tripling. The dozen songs selected below come from all over, though every single artist included has earned a mention on this site in the past. From legitimately legendary acts to incredibly promising projects, everything listed is, as always, worth serious consideration. Hit play and enjoy.

Vacation – Deflector Head

Every time Vacation releases something new, they top themselves. It’s an ascendant trajectory that hasn’t shown any signs of wear and has held true even while the lineup’s experienced some seismic shifts throughout the years. “Deflector Head” might be the band’s most tightly controlled and expertly crafted song to date, which is saying quite a bit considering their varied, impressive discography. A surging burst of basement punk that leans into the kind of pop sensibility that will undoubtedly have listeners reaching to hit repeat before the song even ends.

Lonely Parade – Not Nice

Following “Night Cruise”, one of 2018’s best songs, and continuing to build anticipation for their forthcoming record, Lonely Parade unveiled “Not Nice”. An intoxicating mixture of basement pop and post-punk, the trio continues to find unexpected ways to offer up exhilaration. There’s a conviction to the venomous refrain of “Not Nice” that lends it some emotive heft even while the music verges on a downtrodden kind of joy, effectively mirroring reality. It’s an incredibly impressive work from a band that’s ready and willing to blaze a path of their own.

Katie Ellen – Lighthouse

Following a memorable run fronting Chumped, Katie Ellen shifted focus to a solo project that’s been paying some massive dividends for the songwriter. “Lighthouse” continues to see Ellen excel in narratives that present vulnerability and empathy as strengths, fueling that conviction with subversive pop-punk. Thoughtful, calming, and galvanized, “Lighthouse” has a handful of nervous energy at its center but executes its ideals with exacting precision. A triumphant work.

Billy Moon – White Shoes/Dingus

A project that’s been consistently good finds a path to greatness through an incendiary dual release in Billy Moon’s “White Shoes/Dingus”, a double single that feeds off frustration and abandonment. The former is an all-out blitz that barely passes the 60-second mark while the latter’s preceded by a voicemail message that provides some very direct context. Both tracks stand as the best work of Billy Moon’s career thus far, suggesting that while a musical obsession might cause grievances for some, it could serve as a benefit to many, many others.

Whitney Ballen – Rainier

The second of two tracks to be released ahead of You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship and Whitney Ballen‘s already carved out a spot as one of 2018’s most promising new artists. “Rainier” is one of the centerpieces of a genuinely mesmerizing records and displays the kind of tenacity and heart that supplies the record its considerable emotive heft. Emotionally volatile and unapologetic in its forays into darkness and yearning, “Rainier” is as challenging as it is moving, weaving together the kind of spell that’s hard to shake.

Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud

“Surprises in your mind, won’t you have your way?” is the opening question of Black Belt Eagle Scout‘s “Soft Stud”, which goes on to probe even more invasive questions and impulses. Driven by a steady, mid-tempo back beat and an even more steadfast insistence in both the narrative and the playing, “Soft Stud” conjurs up a magnetic pull reminiscent of early Cat Power. Unafraid to wrap itself in a light coat of grime, “Soft Stud” leans into the muck, offering up a peaceful acceptance with toxic longing. In embracing a harsh reality, Black Belt Eagle Scout also wind up with the finest work of their burgeoning career.

Devon Welsh – By the Daylight

Majical Cloudz were an unforgettable project that provided an avalanche of breathtaking moments. Devon Welsh, the band’s leader, played a large role in cultivating the band’s identity. The sparse intensity of Welsh’s old group has been tied over to the songwriter’s solo work. “By the Daylight”, Welsh’s most recent offering as a solo artist, is immediately gripping and works its way to the kind of emotional peaks that Majical Cloudz hit with regularity. Appropriately, “By the Daylight” feels more personal than Welsh’s erstwhile duo and suggests the kind of long, rich career most artists dream of attaining.

Goon – Enter Bethel Admissions

Over the past few years, Goon have established themselves as one of the most remarkably consistent artists currently making music. They’ve nearly perfected the art of the mid-tempo basement pop number and “Enter Bethel Admission” fits comfortably into that mold. Tender vocals, guitar tones that have just a touch of dirt, and moments of musical interplay that verge on euphoric terrain collide once more to provide an instantly winsome track that strengthens the band’s growing legacy.

Guided By Voices – You Own the Night

The amount of music Robert Pollard has managed to release in the window of time he’s been making music continues to legitimately verge on the impossible. Fortunately, Pollard’s long been the kind of songwriter who’s gifted enough to make throwaway tracks worthwhile. Even better, Pollard’s peaks as a songwriter are stratospheric and “You Own the Night” comes far closer to that category than to the stockpile of trivialities. A three and a half minute outpouring of thoughtful joy in Guided By Voices‘ characteristically shaggy presentation, “You Own the Night” is an unpredictable distillation of Pollard’s always-outsize ambitions.

Sharkmuffin – Your Stupid Life

In 80 seconds Sharkmuffin rattle off the most impressive track of their discography. Measured, filled to the brim with poise and feeling, and suffused with weaponized dynamics, Sharkmuffin make every single one of those 80 seconds not just count but land with maximum impact. “Your Stupid Life” is as sharp as anything the band’s released and the attitude that the track comes equipped with could be enough to make any potential detractors wither on sight. Compact and surprisingly powerful, “Your Stupid Life” is Sharkmuffin at their best.

Tomberlin – I’m Not Scared

A devastating meditation on identity and autonomy, Tomberlin‘s “I’m Not Scared” is both painful and heartening in equal measure. There are scars on display in a narrative that’s stripped to an unavoidable nakedness that forces the listener to grapple with the kind of context that demands these declarations. There’s a level of emotional battery ingrained into “I’m Not Scared” — which only features piano, vocals, and strings — that immediately aligns Tomberlin with acts like Elliott Smith and Julien Baker. As difficult as it is necessary, “I’m Not Scared” is one of the most captivating and painfully gorgeous songs that 2018’s produced to date.

Basement Revolver – Dancing

There are few bands that so transparently reach for the heights as Basement Revolver seems to strive for with each song and even fewer who can actually match or claim to have achieved anything near their level of success in that pursuit. “Dancing”, the band’s latest, is characteristically huge, a behemoth of a track that leans into its dramatic sensibilities with an unabashed vigor. There’s a cacophony of feedback that swells beneath the surface of “Dancing”, propelling it even further upwards. Arresting and elegant, “Dancing” is the kind of track that makes listeners take notice.