Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Sub Pop

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talking Straight (Stream)

The past few days have brought a handful of great tracks into the world from acts like Momma, CHASTITY, Dama Scout, Lawn, High Sunn, Marmalakes, Hiding Behind Sound, Little Junior, Jesse Jo Stark, John Craigie, Many Rooms, The Saxophones, Jenny Hval, Feverbones, Secret Mountain, Deux Trois, Life in the Vacuum, and Patches Paradise. However, today’s focus is going to shift back to a song that was initially released as a music video but is available for standalone streaming now: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever‘s “Talking Straight”.

If the band’s name — popularly abbreviated to both RBCF and Rolling Blackouts C.F. — looks familiar, it’s because they’ve landed on this site a handful of times in the past. Curiously, despite having existed for over 5 years, the band’s never put out a proper full-length. While they can claim a handful of outstanding EP’s and standalone tracks to their name, the proper album has eluded them in the past. It’s allowed them a storied history and an abundance of time to develop ideas should that day ever arrive.

Fortunately, it seems as if that time’s paid off, if the two singles to tease their forthcoming full-length Hope Downs are any indication. The most recent single, “Talking Straight” comes off as particularly promising, standing as both a career high mark for the band and a track that’s destined to wind up on hundreds upon hundreds of mixes made for long drives. It’s a driving, folk-inflected piece of punk-tinged Americana but it’s delivered with more of a sneer than the band’s revealed in a while.

A talk-sing vocal delivery suits the verses as well and makes the chorus feel significantly more explosive in contrast. “Talking Straight” also navigates its momentum incredibly well, providing the proceedings with gripping dynamics that keep the listener invested. While the song approaches four minutes in total, the breezy, toe-tapping nature of the track makes that run time feel nearly halved. It’s another extraordinary outing for a band that’s consistently great and goes quite a ways in positioning Hope Downs as one of the year’s potential must-hear releases. Don’t miss out on the ride.

Listen to “Talking Straight” below and pre-order Hope Downs from Sub Pop here.

LVL UP – Return to Love (Album Review)

LVL UP II

A great week was all but capped off by a tantalizing array of new material, including streams from Dark Blue, Teksti-TV 666, Black Honey, Alien Boy, Teen Vice, Acrylics, and Itasca. Neaux held down the fort for the music video format while excellent full streams from the likes of Static Animal, Anthony Jay Sanders, and betty becky came to light. Dillo Milk’s tremendous second compilation, Dillo Milk 2, rounded things out in memorable fashion.

As enticing as it was to go into detail on any of those entries listed above, this post was always going to belong to LVL UP. When Heartbreaking Bravery first started, they were the ideal example of the type of band this space was designed to celebrate. A scrappy, frequently overlooked powerhouse that earned critical acclaim and adoration in certain circles, had strong communal values, a distinctly DIY ethos, and a knack for intelligent, intuitive songwriting. The fact that they were playing basement pop — the genre that would arguably come to define this site’s coverage — almost became secondary to those other characteristics.   

Less than a week and a half elapsed from the first post to be published on this site before LVL UP’s was printed. Even if that mention was only a tangential one, it was designed to posit the band as reference point for feature coverage. Before long, they became an intrinsic part of Heartbreaking Bravery’s allotted feature segments. Very few bands have appeared in that capacity at a greater volume of frequency than LVL UP have managed to attain over their past several releases.

Hoodwink’d
, their outstanding sophomore full-length, topped this site’s best albums of 2014 list. Three Songs, the quartet’s most recent short-form release, ranked highly in the best EP’s of 2015 list. “Hidden Driver“, “Spirit Was“, “Pain“, and “The Closing Door“, the four songs to tease the just-released Return to Love, all earned features on their own considerable merit. With that kind of rollout campaign, a full review of Return to Love became an inevitability. Predictably, the rest of the record somehow found a way to surpass what were once thought to be unreasonably high expectations.

“Hidden Driver”, Return to Love‘s incendiary opener, sounded like it was all but ready to hurtle itself into an untested abyss when it was first unveiled. It’s an explosive work and it sets up the noticeably more aggressive nature of Return to Love, which asks a lot bigger questions than its predecessors. From the outset, Return to Love grapples with non-traditional instances of love and spirituality, something the band discussed at length in Loren DiBlasi‘s revealing MTV profile piece that went up earlier today.

In that interview, guitarist/vocalist Dave Benton (who penned “Hidden Driver”) posited God as a feeling, rather than as an all-knowing omnipresence. So, when the unforgettable chorus of “Hidden Driver” hits, the meaning becomes slightly more clear. It’s the first instance of a slew of moments that litter Return to Love in which the band confront the spiritual realm with the kind of bold decisiveness that powers the record.

Blur“, one of two songs to be revised from Three Songs for Return to Love, increases the velocity of the momentum and allows Mike Caridi to take over for a moment. Characteristically riff-happy and tethered to an enviable pop sensibility, “Blur” scales back from the otherworldly concerns of “Hidden Driver” to examine the minutiae of a fractured relationship and its lingering effects.

Only two songs into the record and LVL UP have already struck a delicate balance of external and internal questioning, providing an early hint that Return to Love is a record that’s defined by a commitment to exploring their own curiosity. Complementing that theme is the renewed emphasis on keys, which prove to be immensely effective and elevate the record’s frequently subdued nature, especially as Return to Love explores new musical territory.

A great example of that exploration comes in the form of the record’s third track, which turns the spotlight back to Benton. “She Sustains Us” is one of Return to Love‘s more definitive moments as it opens up the band’s sound, considerably expands their musical boundaries, establishes new tendencies, and examines the ideas of love and spirituality from a singular perspective while remaining subversive in the way those topics are typically approached. Beautiful harmonies flitter in and out of “She Sustains Us” and continues the the band’s tradition of adding compelling touches of overt femininity in their work.

The ensuing quartet of tracks constitute Return to Love‘s beating heart and have all either been revealed as part of the record’s introductory campaign or have been staples of the band’s galvanizing live sets for a year or more. “Pain” — a critical part of that run of songs and one of the record’s many standouts — sees Mike Caridi getting off some cutting asides while still managing to invoke a small semblance of lightness. The narrative of “Blur” is unapologetic in its casual brutality, wishing nothing but the worst for a person who harmed a loved one. Somehow, the spry nature of the music surrounding those biting lyrics keep the sentiment from becoming overly malicious.

There’s always been an underlying humanism and empathy to LVL UP’s work, even at its most detached. “Spirit Was”, “The Closing Door”, and “Five Men On the Ridge” all reap the benefits of that genuine, open-hearted approach which continues to stand in contrast to so many otherwise similarly-minded acts. All of those songs also ably demonstrate LVL UP’s acutely-realized atmospheric design (the plinking piano figure of “Spirit Was” being a perfect example) and their newfound heaviness (when the band comes crashing in at full force towards the start of the redesigned “The Closing Door”, the sudden impact becomes ridiculously powerful).

Five Men on the Ridge“, easily one of Return to Love‘s heaviest numbers, transitions the record into its final run of tracks with an impressive mixture of grace and relentless intensity. It’s a song that’ll be new to just about everyone that hasn’t been fortunate enough to catch the band live but it takes on new life in the context of the record. One of bassist/vocalist Nick Corbo’s strongest contributions to date, the song finally infuses Return to Love‘s line of questioning with a well-earned sense of dread; there are likely some big questions that are better left unanswered.

Corbo immediately follows that jarring moment of bleakness with one of Return to Love‘s most meditative pieces, “Cut from the Vine”, which finds the songwriter returning to a characteristic theme: the distinctly human connection to nature. It’s something that Corbo’s explored on previous records and discussed semi-frequently in interviews (as well as casual conversation). While all of the past instances of this recurrent theme in Corbo’s songwriting have been engaging, “Cut from the Vine” is truly exceptional.

With the slow-burn of “Cut from the Vine”, the record’s final Caridi track — “I” — is positioned perfectly. Return to Love‘s penultimate number restores a sense of urgency and elevates its immediacy, recalling the band’s past work with enough panache and untethered momentum to rank as one of Return to Love‘s most exhilarating offerings. At a brisk two minutes (not counting the fascinating ambient epilogue that features drummer Greg Rutkin’s distorted ramblings about a beach), it’s the record’s shortest song and its sharpest kick, all but cementing Return to Love as one of 2016’s fiercest highlights.

All of that said — meaning every single paragraph of this feature review — nothing could’ve been adequate preparation for Return to Love‘s bruising, doom-leaning, chant-laden finale, “Naked In the River with the Creator”. Corbo takes the reigns once again and steers the focus back to nature, love, and spirituality in one fell swoop. “Naked in the River with the Creator” was one of three songs on Return to Love that was initiated by the excellent Song A Day for A Week series and its final form is astonishing.

Nearly seven and a half minutes in length, “Naked in the River with the Creator” suggests that Return to Love still hasn’t revealed the extent of the band’s ambitions. Opening with the slowest tempo of the record, somber vocals awash in a gently haunting organ figure, the effect is genuinely startling. Even more startling is when the bottom drops out and plunges the band into a quasi-nightmarish trip into a metal-informed trance that evokes a state of possession.

The latter half of “Naked in the River with the Creator”, with its repeated mantras of chants like the opening “white river, black water, gaining purpose, moving stronger, ash rising, bright father, dogs running the earth’s daughter” becomes both deeply disconcerting and oddly chilling. As directly as the band confronted spirituality throughout Return to Love, “Naked in the River with the Creator” all but exists on a different plane of existence. It’s a shocking departure from a band not typically known for taking risks and the dividends it pays are enormous, fully positioning LVL UP’s Sub Pop as not only a genre classic but as one of the legendary label’s best releases in years.

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Listen to Return to Love below and pick it up from Sub Pop here.

LVL UP – The Closing Door (Music Video, Live Video)

LVL UP II

In the past 24 hours, there’s been a cavalcade of streams surfacing from artists like Honeyblood, Greys, The Meltaways, House of Feelings (ft. Meredith Graves), War Church, Jackson Reed, Moby & The Void Pacific Choir, Fair Mothers (ft. Kathryn Joseph), Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions (ft. Kurt Vile), Daniel Martin Moore, MONO, and Blue House. The music video category also made a fierce push with great new offerings from Risley, Fear of Men, Vomitface, Jeff Rosenstock, Billy Moon, Twin LimbJúníus Meyvant, Bunny, Blood Sport, and Sad13. Finally, a small handful of exceptional full streams that arrived via Sunshine Faces, Pamphleteers, Dinowalrus, Cinemechanica, and Crushed Out rounded everything out in powerful fashion.

As good as all of those were — and they were all quite good — the focus here, for the second time this week, falls to another gorgeous music video from the House of Nod production team. Robert Kolodny’s at the helm for this venture, an absolutely beautiful clip for LVL UP‘s sprawling “The Closing Door”. Easily one of the darkest songs in the band’s formidable discography, “The Closing Door” went through a revamp from its first iteration on last year’s inspired Three Songs EP and now stands proudly as one of Return to Love‘s finest moments.

Presented in a classic 1.37:1 ratio, Kolodny immediately establishes that “The Closing Door” is going to be heavily informed by a nostalgic bent. Even in the most minuscule of details, there are stories to be told and the ratio presentation here is an expertly played tactic that also emphasizes the clip’s tonal quality. The color palette’s soft saturation similarly invokes memories of a past age of film, nicely complementing the song’s narrative, which pays careful attention to transitional elements.

Sean Henry — an artist who resides on the excellent Double Double Whammy label, which is run by LVL UP’s Dave Benton and Mike Caridi — stars in the clip and spends the majority of “The Closing Door” wandering a scenic patch of woods, stuck in a state of wide-eyed wonderment. It’s an endearing central performance but, more importantly, it’s an incredibly effective one. Even with all of the sublime flourishes that elevate the clip’s considerable sense of style, Henry grounds the entire affair with an everyman’s charm that suffuses “The Closing Door” with a lived-in feel.

That’s not to say all of “The Closing Door” is straightforward, as there are exquisite splashes of magic realism and pure artistry that further enlivens the proceedings. Bits of classic animation litter the woodland landscape and shots of small animals taking flight punctuate the clip’s measured pace to great effect. To top everything off, “The Closing Door” hits the peak of its subdued strangeness with a climax that sees Henry tenaciously scaling a tree only to throw open a door to reveal a host of warm, familiar faces in a living room (among them, FORGE.‘s Matthew James-Wilson and Yours Are The Only Ears‘ Susannah Lee Cutler).

That final reveal’s a transcendental payoff in an immensely compelling clip that never makes a false move. In a clip that’s driven by the past, it’s ultimate destination points towards the future. It’s an elegant metaphor and Kolodny handles it with an astonishing amount of grace. As the song’s monumental final section soundtracks the moment, “The Closing Door” breaks from familiarity to provide a gentle epilogue that winds down to contentment and acceptance. That closing scene is one final grace note in a series of brilliant maneuvers that all but guarantee “The Closing Door” a status as an unlikely classic.

Watch “The Closing Door” below and pick up Return to Love from Sub Pop here. Watch the band playing the song live last year beneath the music video.

LVL UP – Spirit Was (Stream)

LVL UP II

The first two days of this week saw strong songs released from the following artists: Painted Zeros, Sneaks, Devon Welsh, Cheap Girls, Lilac Daze, Casper Skulls, Dweller on the Threshold, Idiot Genes, gobbinjr, Faux Ferocious, Halfsour, Pip Blom, Elephants, Split Single, Rose Hip, Weyes Blood, Thick, Cameron AG, Preoccupations, Oldermost, Tim Hecker, The Shacks, Swet Shop Boys, The Cradle, Gallery 47, Monomyth, Robot Princess, Pumarosa, COPY, decker., Slaughter Beach, Dog, and The Perennials, as well as a great Modern Lovers cover from Sunflower Bean. That’s an intense amount of genuinely exceptional material, which says a lot about the strength of this post’s featured track: LVL UP‘s “Spirit Was”.

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” have set an impressive early tone for LVL UP’s forthcoming Return to Love — an easy album of the year candidate — and now “Spirit Was” joins their ranks. From its opening seconds, it’s evident that “Spirit Was” would be foregoing the heaviness of “Pain” and the urgency of “Hidden Driver” in favor of the more dream-like qualities that have given previous tracks like “Proven Water Rites” a tremendous amount of impact, despite their more serene nature.

As was the case with “Proven Water Rites”, bassist Nick Corbo is at the helm of “Spirit Was”, suffusing the tune with a distinctive blend of weariness, downtrodden longing, and a glimmer of faith in the possibility that there’s more to life than struggle. Like a lot of Return to Love (which can be streamed upon pre-order), “Spirit Was” showcases a heavier, grunge-leaning side of LVL UP that they’d only shown glimpses of in their earlier works. There’s a genuinely intangible quality to this song that elevates it beyond being a good song and transforms it into something impossibly compelling.

Every single second of “Spirit Was” seems to have an incalculable depth of meaning and importance to its authors, going far deeper than just the narrative. LVL UP are playing as if the stakes are life or death and they’re hedging all of their bets on survival, at all costs. From the very welcome addition — and surprising prominence — of piano flourishes to the empathetic rhythm section work to the intuitive guitar interplay, there’s not a false move to be found. It’s an astonishing moment of poise from a band that’s operating at the peak of their powers, paying tribute to their past while not taking their eyes off of the future.

By its end, “Spirit Was” serves as an incredibly assured testament to the artistic prowess that the band’s attained over several years of evolving their craft.  None of them have ever sounded more impressive than they do on Return to Love both in an individual capacity and as a unit. “Spirit Was” is a perfect example of that progress and a cogent argument for their tenacious commitment to artistic growth. Subdued, atmospheric, and oddly reassuring, “Spirit Was” is the sound of a band on the verge of perfection. It’s a peak that deserves to be experienced by everyone so stop reading now and just hit play.

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

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.

METZ – Spit You Out (Music Video)

METZ XXVII

While this site hasn’t been running posts at the everyday pace it used to, there’s always work that’s being done behind the scenes. A project for the site has been enormously time-consuming as have other pressing commitments. However, as always, everything’s been accounted for as it comes into play. The next four posts will focus on some of the finest music videos to have come out  over the past few months, each highlighted by an individual clip. The upcoming slew of full and single stream posts will follow this format. Kicking everything off is the video for METZ‘s excellent “Spit You Out“.

A seemingly never-ending stream of frantic words have been spoken, shouted, and (suitably) unintelligibly screamed about METZ’s live show so a live edit clip somewhere along the way seemed inevitable. Enter: “Spit You Out”. Appropriately, the song’s visual accompaniment feels as searing as the song itself, utilizing a stark black and white palette, frenzied editing, and a strobe-like presentation to maximum effect. All the while, both the band and the audience go about losing their respective minds. It’s a no-holds-barred attack that leaves a strong impression. By scaling back, the band ups the urgency and remind us that stakes never really mattered in the first place.

Watch “Spit You Out” below, pick up a copy of METZ II here, and explore a list of some of the best music videos of the past few months underneath the embed.

Desaparecidos – Golden Parachutes
Sauna Youth – The Bridge
The Beverleys – Hoodwink
Soul Low – Always Watchin’ Out
Noun – Loveblood
Wavves – My Head Hurts
Loose Tooth – Skinny Chewy
Idle Bloom – Mind Reader
Haybaby – Doored
Laura Stevenson – Torch Song
The Blue Jean Committee – Catalina Breeze
Bianca Casady & the C.i.A – RoadKill
Spring King – Who Are You?
Potty Mouth – Creeper Weed
Petal Head – Spooky Something
Will Butler – What I Want
Swings – Tiles
Pouty – Sad
Majical Cloudz – Game Show
Madeira – Lay Me Down
Lil Bub – Gravity
Polyon – Blue
Public Access TV – In Love And Alone
Wimps – Dump
Cass McCombs – I Cannot Lie
This Will Destroy You – Mother Opiate
Chris Farren – Chris Farren’s Disney’s Frozen
Leif Erikson – Looking for Signs
Muncie Girls – Gas Mask 4
Waxahatchee – La Loose
Pixx – Deplore
Walter Martin – Amsterdam

Watch This: Vol. 85

Welcome to the 85th installment of Watch This, the annual Sunday series that celebrates some of the finest performance captures to find release over the past week. Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres all continue their respective strangleholds on this series’ feature spots. Heavy on full sets, every artist featured here has earned several words from this site in the past. Of course, as usual, there was stiff competition for the feature spots. Artists responsible for those performances included: Tahiti Boy & the Palmtree Family, Christopher Owens, Christopher Paul Stelling, Sorority Noise, Leon Bridges, Viet Cong, HEALTH, Calexico, Dave Monks, Sam Prekop + Archer PrewittMolina y Los Co´smicos, Forth Wanderers, Shana Cleveland and The Sandcastles, and footage from the FORM Acrosanti anti-festival. It’s another lineup that’s indicative of the five featured clips’ astounding strength. So, as always, grab a drink, sit back, adjust the volume to whatever best reflects your preference, and Watch This.

1. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)

METZ are one of the fiercest live bands on the planet right now so their inclusion here isn’t really all that surprising. What’s definitely unexpected, though, is the gorgeous scenery. Performing at the Best Kept Secret festival, the trio took to a house’s front yard and delivered an absolutely blistering rendition of METZ II highlight “Spit You Out”. It’s an exhilarating tour de force from one of this generation’s most exciting bands.

2. Girlpool (NPR)

By now it’s very likely that the trio of songs the duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Lebel-Tividad play here have graced this series more than any other songs. However, they’ve never been played on a stage even remotely similar to NPR’s vaunted Tiny Desk Concert series. Now, more than ever, it’s abundantly clear how ingrained these songs are in both members. Intuitive playing, effortless harmonies, and a genuine love for their work and each other once again carries their performances to near-transcendental heights.

3. Speedy Ortiz (unARTigNYC)

First thing’s first: this is not a complete video. Understandable, because the weather started threatening everyone’s equipment, not just Speedy Ortiz’s (who had several technical difficulties throughout a spirited, memorable set). I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for this show- held for free on a pier in Manhattan as part of Hudson River Parks’ Hudson RiverRocks concert series- and weathered a fairly brutal rainfall sans umbrella until the bitter end (the rain started- and the wind picked up- during a beautiful version of “Doomsday”, a song that still manages to elicit goosebumps and stands firm as a Song of the Decade contender). Although it’s not featured in the video, I’ll have a permanently embedded memory of the band losing pedal after pedal (and then amp and PA connections) during a particularly fierce take on “American Horror” that ended with Sadie Dupuis opting to take her guitar off and hold it above her head, allowing the feedback to ring out, like some ritualistic sacrifice to the gods. It was a stunning moment. Unfortunately, Waxahatchee’s set had to be cancelled due to lightning before it even started- but it would have been hard to have made much of an impression after what Speedy Ortiz accomplished in the face of what could have easily been disastrous.

4. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (Sunday  Sessions)

There’s something about Torres’ “A Proper Polish Welcome” being played as a solo piece that manages to come off as intrinsically haunted. One of the most arresting moments on one of the year’s best records, it’s lent an even greater pathos when it’s stripped bare. With Sunday Sessions placing all of the emphasis on Mackenzie Scott, the clip nears a strange voyeurism as Scott completely loses herself to both the song and the performance. Gripping and beautiful, it’s a masterclass in solo performance.

5. Courtney Barnett (Moshcam)

Courtney Barnett seems to be making a habit out of crashing Watch This‘ weekly party with astounding full sets and this excellent performance- beautifully lensed by Moshcam- sees the continuation of that pattern. This time around, the songwriter unloads a career-spanning powerhouse homecoming set to an appreciative audience. Barnett’s a preternaturally gifted performer and the band she’s assembled plays well to her seemingly endless strengths. A staggering 16-song set, this serves as one of the definitive documents of Barnett’s abilities and still-ascending level(s) of success.

Watch This: Vol. 79

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 – Before The World Was Big (Exclaim!)

Capping off Girlpool’s impressive run of recent live captures is this beautiful take of “Before The World Was Big“, courtesy of Exclaim!. Naturally, there’s a sense of genuine calm that characterizes the clip, the duo’s affability presented clearly. The performance is as crisp as any the band’s delivered; a riveting document of a variety of enviable gifts. The song itself ranks among the year’s best, as does the album, but it’s brought new life given the freedom of the expanse of space provided by a live setting, rendering this clip a can’t-miss prospect.

2. Las Robertas (KEXP)

While an increasing number of bands are adopting a surf influence, there are only a few that are wielding that influence effectively; Las Robertas is one of those bands. KEXP recently played host to the band and received an impassioned set in return. Sunny pop melodies and a decidedly punk nonchalance keep the session lively as an interview provides some insight to the band’s inner workings (and dredges up some amusing anecdotes). Packaged all together, it’s an exhilarating ride that coasts on the dichotomy of being clearly driven but sounding effortlessly carefree.

3. SOAK (La Blogotheque)

Between Courtney Barnett’s recent La Blogotheque turn-in and this deeply felt session for Bridie Monds-Watson’s SOAK project, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the series hasn’t slowed their ambitions. Characteristically gorgeous and surprisingly moving, this pair of songs- “B a Nobody” and “Blud”- become awe-inspiring thanks to both the committed performance and the way the performances are lensed. Monds-Watson exhibits a breathtaking command over control and restraint throughout and, by the video’s end, walks away with one of the most unexpectedly inspiring live moments of the year.

4. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Wichita)

Wrapping up the run of Waxahatchee’s recent St. Pancras set is a characteristically spellbinding take of one of 2015’s best singles, “Under A Rock“. Eschewing all of the anthemic rock trappings that made the song sound so defiantly gigantic in the recorded setting in favor of a bare-bones approach, “Under A Rock” becomes another gorgeous showcase for not just Katie Crutchfield but her twin, Allison (of Swearin’), as well. It’s a fitting end-cap for one of 2015’s most gorgeous video sets and affirms that Waxahatchee is operating at the height of her current powers.

5. Sleater-Kinney (Later… With Jools Holland)

One of the year’s most welcome surprises was the return of Sleater-Kinney, not just because they were back (which would have been a welcome return) but because they were back with a vengeance. No Cities To Love felt like an evolution of The Woods (one of my picks for best record of the 2000’s), re-establishing not only the band’s identity but their creative restlessness. The band recently stopped by the vaunted UK show Later… With Jools Holland to deliver a trio of fiery performances (“No Cities To Love”, “Gimme Love”, and “Price Tag”, respectively), resoundingly defeating any adjusted expectations in the process. Even in a nearly decade-long absence, the band hasn’t lost a step.

Watch This: Vol. 68

It only took about four months to elapse and required some serious legwork but Watch This will be resuming its regular format now and it’s regular pace on Sunday. Below are five live clips from last week that stood out. From old standbys to exciting new bands, each and every one of these takes is worth seeing. All five represent the absolute pinnacle of what can be accomplished with instruments, microphones, a camera, and some tasteful editing. So, enough with the lead-in, it’s time to sit back, turn the volume up, pour a drink, dim the lights, and Watch This.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitar (KEXP)

LOSE was easily one of last year’s best records and Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest moment to date. Tackling sensitive topics with enough verve and vulnerability to make most acoustic singer/songwriters blush, the band created something that landed with enough force that it’s repercussions are still reverberating nearly halfway into this year. In the live setting, the band sinks its teeth into those songs with enough bleary-eyed fervor that it occasionally elevates their impact. KEXP recently turned their lenses on the band as they glided through a scorching set that fully demonstrated LOSE‘s formidable magnitude.

2. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Sweet Disorder (Jam in the Van)

Back in October, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires played their hearts out to less than twenty people in a small Milwaukee bar. It was one of the most impassioned sets that I’ve seen in the past few years and the band delivers that trademark intensity to Jam in the Van for what’s currently that series’ best session of 2015. All manic energy, grit, and relentless determination, the band turns in an absolute monster live take of “Sweet Disorder” that could convert more than a few people on its own.

3. Nots – Reactor (BreakThruRadio)

Nots’ self-titled full-length for Goner Records last year was one of the strongest moments of 2014 for the legendary punk label. Ever since that release, the band’s been touring at a reckless pace and honing their live show- something that’s easily evidenced in yet another outstanding BTR live clip. “Reactor” is one of the band’s best songs and the band injects it with a self-possessed fury that accelerates the song into a whirlwind of near-chaos that suits Nots’ aesthetic to perfection.

4. A Place To Bury Strangers – We’ve Come So Far (KEXP)

I’m not sure KEXP has a hosted an individual performance that’s as singularly vicious as A Place To Bury Strangers’ recent run-through of “We’ve Come So Far”, which goes so far beyond the memorable stage antics that helps transform this into one of the station’s most visually stunning offerings in some time. Light projections, noise solos, and a flood light that’s wielded as both a slide and as a weapon go a long way in making this version of “We’ve Come So Far” stick but what really gives the performance its teeth is the way every band member seems to forget their surroundings and just lay into their respectable roles in a way that indicates this is less of a performance and more of a deranged, otherworldly ritual.

5. The Districts (Out of Town Films) 

While The Districts recorded output hasn’t quite gripped me like I’ve expected, in a live setting the band’s an entirely different beast. Here, lovingly filmed by the excellent Out of Town Films, they deliver a scorcher of set that more than backs up the band’s considerable buzz. Stunning cinematography and a killer set of songs take this to the realms of a near-classic document of an exciting young band. Only growing stronger as they go, The Districts (and Out of Town Films) turn in a vital reminder of their sizable strengths. Don’t let this one slide by quietly.

METZ – Spit You Out (Stream)

METZ I

While there may still be a large handful of full streams to mention from 2015’s beginnings, it’s a small enough array to justify pushing off to the side for just a while. Today officially marks the return to regular coverage as an every day staple and today, more than any other day, feels like the precise right time to kick things back into high gear. While there weren’t a lot of music video that managed to sink their way in, Holy Pinto’s laid-back animated clip for “Tooth” and Oddisee’s black-and-white journey in “CounterClockwise” still constitute a strong showing for the medium. Full streams packed a little more heat in numbers, with a pair of demos coming into sharp focus, courtesy of Composite and Dominadora, respectively (a personal thanks to Pansy Twist Distro‘s Amy for tips on both). In the non-demo corners of that particular sphere, there were treasures to be found in the spiked post-punk of Bad Future‘s Nightchurch, the joyfully scattershot eclecticism of The Danger Boys’ self-titled effort, the scrappy grit of the indie pop found on VARSITY‘s most recent full-length, and Telepathic’s reassuringly brilliant Powers of Ten EP, which lessens the pain caused by the sudden departure of site favorites Bleeding Rainbow (Telepathic features members of the band).

As usual, there was a glut of incredible songs worth touching on, a few of which nearly snagged tonight’s headline. A pairing of elder statesman from the independent scene had a good day out with both Conor Oberst’s Desaparecidos marking their official return with “City on the Hill” to tease a forthcoming record (Payola) and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan providing a reminder of why he remains one of the more influential voices in music with the lightly damaged (and wholly brilliant) “Box Batteries“.  Moon King provided alluring lilt with “Impossible“,  Town Portal took off the safety with the gnarled “Bonus Trigger“, Blank Pages blurred the line between basement pop and post-punk with “No Reception“, and 15 year-old wunderkind Billie Marten turned in a haunting folk stunner with “Heavy Weather“. Howard also turned in an arresting folk tune by way of “Religion” while Battle Ave carved out an atmospheric niche with the downtrodden “Aleph“. A trio of punk scrappers rounded things out with Hinds (formerly known as Deers) unveiling the finalized version of the slow-burning “Trippy Gum“, The Teen Age elevating the anticipation for their forthcoming record with the driving “Pieces“, and Loose Tooth wreaking all kinds of havoc with their latest, the rousing “Skinny Chewy“.

Even with all of those items coming out swinging, the day- and this piece’s focus- belongs to METZ. Arriving only a day after “Acetate” fearlessly pummeled its way onto the site’s First Quarter Highlights mixtape, “Spit You Out” comes flying off the handle, kicking down any doors that are in its path. One of the biggest criticisms METZ– the band’s acclaimed debut- faced was that it was too one-note; song structures were too similar and the band couldn’t shake its comfort zone. At the same time, praise for their live show began appearing in just about any publication that paid the band any mind. Personally, I loved the no-bullshit approach bent of their debut but “Spit You Out” does suggest the band might have latched onto something tremendously exciting by deviating from their more conventional tendencies (which aren’t really all that conventional anyway). One thing the characteristically hell-raising does do better than any of its predecessors is imitate the band’s exhilarating live show. Riding one of the band’s strangest riffs throughout the course of the song, guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins sounds as manic as ever- only relenting for a thrilling extended section that feels tuned in to what the band aims for live. Apart from that, there are a few other production flourishes here and there that suggest II, the appropriately-named album to which “Acetate” and “Spit You Out” belong, could be one of 2015’s finest releases. Noise solos, a tambourine that somehow manages to sound menacing, and a whole lot of attitude combine to serve as a warning: METZ aren’t planning on going anywhere until they finish what they started.

Listen to “Spit You Out” below and pre-order II from Sub Pop here.