Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Surfing Strange

NXNE Day 4: Creep Highway, Perfect Pussy, Frankie Cosmos, Swearin’

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A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.

Swearin’ – Live at Memorial Union Terrace – 5/30/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

Swearin' XLII

There are very few bands that will warrant the subversion of this site’s manifest. One of the rules that this place tends to hold sacred is that the music in question is more important than an individual reaction to it (this eliminates the assumptions involved in writing from a first person perspective). That said, there are a few bands that have managed to flip that script based on the sheer reverence their music has earned. Perfect Pussy and Tenement are the most notable to have it done it so far but today Swearin’ joins their ranks. There’s just something about the band that resonates with me on a really intense personal level. It’s at the point where it’s impossible to distance or separate myself from that reaction. Taking myself out of the equation would, in some way, feel more dishonest than just trying to get across how this band affects me personally- because any time that happens it’s worth dissolving barriers for.

Some exposition: What A Dump, the band’s first demo cassette, is one of my favorite releases of all time. There’s literally nothing in my fairly expansive library that comes even remotely close to matching it for number of plays at this point. Swearin’, the band’s first full-length, is in the top ten of that particular list as well. Despite this being the case, up until last Friday night, I’d never seen the band play live. So, when the opportunity to see the band play for free on a terrace overlooking Lake Mendota came, I dropped everything and jumped at the chance. By the end of that night my enthusiasm and affection for the band and its members had only grown more emphatic. An additional bonus was the fact that the show gave me a chance to finally catch Pretty Pretty live as well, who lived up to their strong early reputation.

Both bands played shortly after the sun finally set on Madison with Pretty Pretty giving a commanding performance that emphasized their strengths as a live act. The Columbus trio”s punk-tinged powerpop never got tiresome and their set only got more impassioned as it went on, gaining a startling momentum until it finally got to a place where the only thing left to do was call it quits for the evening and let Swearin’ take over. Swearin’, for their part, commanded the hell out of their sizeable audience (it’s nice to see free music outdoors on a perfect night proving to be as big of a draw as it’s ever been) and lived up to every ridiculous, lofty expectation I’d been forming for years. A lot of their songs are practically sacred to me at this point and they only grew more vital in the live setting. When their discography spanning set came to a close, strings had been broken, feelings had been poured out, notes had been missed, beer had flowed frrely, an infinite amount of mosquitoes had been swatted, and everyone was all smiles. From “Here to Hear” to “Crashing” to “Dust in the Gold Sack” to “What A Dump” to “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” there was never a moment that felt less than incendiary. My friend Justin summed the whole thing up aptly and admiringly with a simple “Fuckin’ Swearin'”. How right he is.

A video of Swearin’ kicking off their set with “Here to Hear” can be seen below. Below that video is an extensive image gallery of the show. Take a look at both, then make sure to catch them in person whenever they’re in town. It’ll be worth it.

Great Thunder – Groovy Kinda Love (Album Review)

First off: apologies for the font issues yesterday’s Meredith Graves interview piece is still experiencing, those will hopefully be resolved at some point in the near future. Now, today’s event: Great Thunder.  Great Thunder have been one of the more hidden side projects for a while now, despite two incredible releases and the continuously rising profiles of both Swearin’ and Waxahatchee. Both their Strange Kicks EP and Sounds of Great Thunder LP showed flashes of their band members’ other projects influence. While this is still true of the absolutely massive Groovy Kinda Love, it’s to a much lesser extent.

Groovy Kind of Love utilizes an intimidating run time that nears 90 minutes to maximum effect. Great Thunder sheds all genre restrictions and just lets loose, exploring industrial, ambient, sludge, folk, drone, shoegaze, pop, and punk over the record’s 30 tracks. With that much material present, it could have been easy for Groovy Kinda Love to fall into a myriad of understandable traps. Instead, Great Thunder manage to subvert the litany of dangers that accompany this brand of over-stuffing through their wide-eyed earnestness. Each track avoids being relegated to filler status by utilizing a wildly different approach. One of the best examples of this comes around the two-thirds mark with an incredible five song run that’s book-ended by Katie Crutchfield’s signature stamp of defiant resignation in both “Sorta Prima Donna” and “Chapel of Pines”.

Unsurprisingly, the record’s most deliriously ragged moments seem to come from Keith Spencer, a key (if notoriously quiet) member of Swearin’. All of the stranger moments on that band’s most recent release, Surfing Strange, are wildly exceeded by the strangeness that runs rampant through the course of this one. Spencer gets to go into full on exploration mode and makes the most of everything he pulls into the band’s shape-shifting aesthetic. Jeff Bolt and Kyle Gilbride both step in to lend their talents to various parts of the record, essentially swapping one Crutchfield out for another momentarily. The results are just as thrilling as anything Swearin’ has accomplished so far.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a project worthy of either Swearin’ or Waxahatchee’s respective talents without a few moments of utter devastation. “Singer’s No Star” takes that hushed mentality to a place that cuts even deeper than the most emotionally unsettling moments of American Weekend. Crutchfield’s voice bleeds into a delicately handled piano line and resides in secret above a hauntingly effective doo-wop chorus. It’s a moment that can freeze even the most hardened listener. “You Left Me With an Ocean” utilizes a similar approach and achieves a similar effect, allowing a short run time to set up a quiet acoustic close.

While calling Groovy Kinda Love Great Thunder’s magnum opus may seem premature, it’s certainly not unwarranted or undeserved. It’s genuinely astonishing that this record actually achieves what it does. It’s not often a band makes a statement as bold, daring, or audacious as this record is. Unquestionably one of 2013’s most notable releases, it deserves to be in just about any serious record collector’s home. More importantly, it deserves to sit on the turntable, played into oblivion until the grooves have worn thin. This isn’t just a record. It’s a masterpiece.

Salinas is now taking pre-orders and the record can be streamed in full below.

Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Album Review)

P.S. Eliot always felt like lightning a bottle and no one was exactly certain what’d happen when that bottle broke. Fortunately, for everyone, there was never a break; it was more of a letting-out. Twins Katie and Alison Crutchfield went in separate directions, with the former spearheading a devastatingly hushed acoustic project as Waxahatchee. Alison grabbed Kyle Gilbride and they took off to start blazing paths under the Swearin’ moniker. Since then, the lion’s share of the public attention has fallen to Katie while Swearin’ have been furiously kicking away in the shadows, releasing both a demo EP, What A Dump, and a self-titled full length over the past two years. Both releases are decade-so-far highlights.

With both What A Dump and Swearin’ being as potent as they were, it only makes sense that they’d be emerging from those shadows about now. A recent co-signing to UK-based Wichita records certainly can’t hurt either. While everything was coming together for the release of their upcoming sophomore outing Surfing Strange, a First Listen honor from NPR provided the final cherry on top for a formidable pre-release campaign that included a music video premiere from Stereogum. All of those factors add up to intimidatingly high expectations, expectations that Surfing Strange manages to artfully subvert.

This subversion is presented immediately with lead-off track “Dust in the Gold Sack”, which not only refines their palette but adds to it. Gilbride brings a previously-unheard shoegaze element into the fold with his guitar work on the thrilling chorus, while an acoustic guitar anchors much of the song despite being buried in the mix. All of the frustrated energy present in Swearin’ is still clearly evident, only now the band has embraced it with a more wizened sense of still-youthful giddiness and a newfound maturity. While “Dust in the Gold Sack” retains and refines the band’s extraordinary melodic sensibilities, the ensuing track brings a new element to the forefront; it gets heavy. Only this time it’s not the hardcore-infused blasts of “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” but a heaviness that underscores a palpable exhaustion. It’s startling in its honestly and provides the perfect back-half of a 1-2 punch to set up the record’s overarching themes.

Throughout the remainder of Surfing Strange the band’s principle songwriters (and real-life couple), Crutchfield and Gilbride, underscore a record that’s ostensibly about personal growth.  At certain points they even cede the spotlight to bassist Keith Spencer, who makes up one of the more formidable young rhythm sections of the burgeoning garage pop scene with drummer Jeff Bolt. Spencer’s turns as the focal fixture are about as soft and vulnerable as Crutchfield’s but slightly, and only slightly, less enthralling. However, that democratic process and presentation is part of what makes Swearin’ such a unique act to begin with. Instead of one distinct entity composed of interchangeable components, it’s an absolute whole made up of four distinct personalities. That the personalities are as visible as they are is a rarity in today’s music and allows Swearin’ a pull that other acts simply can’t match.

As it was on What A Dump and Swearin’, the songs on display in Surfing Strange continuously expand on repeat listens, eventually becoming something more akin to old friends than old songs. While all of the twists and turns on Surfing Strange do require more patience to familiarize, the journey’s well-worth it. Even if the record’s pacing is off from time to time, it’d take a cruel cynic not to be won over by the record’s final stretch. That final stretch begins with the record’s definitive moment, the boldly experimental (all things considered) piano-heavy “Glare of the Sun”.  In that single track, the band finds their way through nearly every influence present throughout Surfing Strange and touches on its key components. Shoegaze guitars return, there’s a somewhat-resigned turn at vocals, a few stylistic shifts, and  lyrics touching heavily on both the past and the future that provide a fairly poignant picture of where the narrator stands at present.

After the somewhat staggering “Glare of the Sun” relents, Surfing Strange re-injects itself with the kind of energy and chemistry that made those first two releases so singular. “Unwanted Place” and “Young” are two of the most energetic tracks in the collection and showcase just how well the band can play off each other. There’s anthemic choruses, a bevvy of 90’s indie influences worn proudly on the member’s sleeves, and an infectious joy that invigorates the more melancholy mood Surfing Strange had built up to that point. “Curdled” brings things to a quieter close that lends the record a sense of finality. Yet, as it is with everything else Swearin’ has done, it’s more than a little tempting to just hit repeat.

You can stream Surfing Strange here.