LVL UP was a band that meant an extraordinary amount to a handful of people and publications, this one included. Losing them last year was a hard pill to swallow but the band’s dissolution allowed its members to pursue freshly formed or revived projects that were of a more directly personal nature. One of those projects was multi-instrumentalist Mike Caridi’s The Glow, which had existed in various forms throughout the years but never released a proper album.
Am I corrects that fact with a kaleidoscopic grace. Caridi’s warped pop-leaning sensibilities shine though this material, even as it gets coated in fuzz and distortion. Am I effortlessly builds a surrealist world both around and inside of its songs, conjuring up images of schools, rivers, lost youth, and open skies. There’s a smoky nostalgia that lingers in the corners, as Caridi soothes, broods, reflects, and embraces various aspects of the songwriter’s personality.
Breezy and endlessly enjoyable, Am I is best enjoyed with a good pair of headphones — the production work throughout is remarkable — and without distraction. There are endless layers to be uncovered in the habitats that Am I creates and revisits, each teeming with fresh life. A quintessential spring record, Am I also doubles as a necessary reminder that when good things have to end, there are other memories to be formed and paths to be forged once the dust has settled. In all, Am I is a fresh start and a poignant reminder of Caridi’s outsize songwriting talent. One of the year’s most enjoyable basement pop listens.
Listen to Am I below and pick it up from Double Double Whammy here.
One of the hardest pills to swallow last year was the dissolution of LVL UP, a band that meant a lot to me and many others on a personal level. What helped ease the sadness that accompanied that announcement was that each of the band’s members would continue pursuing music through different outlets. Dave Benton’s Trace Mountains (which also features drummer Greg Rutkin) released the excellent A Partner To Lean Onbefore 2018 was over, Nick Corbo followed suit with a single for his new project Spirit Was, and Mike Caridi began teasing material for his largely solo venture, The Glow.
Earlier this week, The Glow announced a debut album and released a pair of singles to stoke the anticipation for its release. Mission accomplished. Am I, due out May 24 on Double Double Whammy, will be comprised of two halves of songs. Reportedly, half of this incoming set was written when Caridi was 23 and LVL UP was in full bloom, with the other half being written much more recently, around the band’s end. Appropriately, “I Am Not Warm” — which has previously appeared as a demo — and “Weight of Sun”, offer a glimpse at each half.
Both songs run just past the 1:50 mark, falling very much in line with Caridi’s established tendencies of writing breezy basement pop songs with sticky melodies. Another dominant Caridi trademark’s present in the abundance of warm tones, creating impossibly lovely soundscapes. Where this new era of The Glow differs from the songwriter’s is in its expansiveness, which is evidenced in both the dynamic shifts present in each track. Whether it’s an abrupt break to a mournful piano outro or the continuously shifting nature of “Weight of Sun”, there’s a very real sense that Caridi’s world-building through composition.
“I Am Not Warm” and “Weight of Sun” constitute an incredibly impressive opening barrage from a reliably great songwriter looking to further a burgeoning legacy. Lose yourself in the deceptively elegant charms of each track and circle May 24 on the calendar. Early indicators are pointing towards that Friday being one worth celebrating.
Listen to “I Am Not Warm” and “Weight of Sun” below and pre-order Am I from Double Double Whammy here.
Just two weeks have passed since November closed, which is more than enough time to for a variety of acts to have unveiled great music videos. Revived projects, critical darlings, and attention-catching upstarts make up the five picks below. A variety of film styles are deployed and each clip carries its own unique charm. To get the full effect, just click play.
1. Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone
Zuzu has been impressing for the past few years, slowly building international name recognition while consistently achieving at a high level. A sought-after live act and a songwriter who’s got a firm grip on both identity and craft, Zuzu’s continued to turn heads. The clip for “Can’t Be Alone” — which utilizes lightheartedness and French New Wave to tremendous effect — is another piece of an expanding, winsome story. Tongue-in-cheek, grounded, and immensely enjoyable, the “Can’t Be Alone” video is another reminder of Zuzu’s increasingly bright future.
2. Mitski – Washing Machine Heart
Watching the evolution of Mitski from celebrated bedroom pop artist to cultural megastar has been a privilege. As is the case with the best artists, that transition has seen Mitski grow more committed to personal artistic vision. Aided by the opportunities that level of recognition can unlock, the songwriter’s remained steadfast in using that visibility responsibly. “Washing Machine Heart” is another hyper-stylized video from the artist, leaning fully into the film noir tendencies that provided a few of Mitski’s past videos a nice flourish. It’s mesmerizing.
3. Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me
One of the biggest artistic leaps forward this year came from Alien Boy, who unleashed an unlikely behemoth in Sleeping Lessons. A record that married grunge, shoegaze, punk, and emo in fascinating ways, had more than a few highlights. “Somewhere Without Me” was one of that record’s most astonishing moments and gets the visual treatment on a Sjur Hjeltness-helmed clip that pays homage to the iconic visual history of the post-punk genre. Studied and exhilarating, the clip serves as a perfect complement.
4. Swervedriver – Drone Lover
Not a lot of people could have predicted how seamlessly Swervedriver‘s return to the fold would be or that they’d be making some of the most powerful music of their career in 2018. “Drone Lover” makes a case for the latter part of that equation with gusto. “Drone Lover” continues the band’s collage-heavy tendencies on the visual end, which nicely underscores their primal squalor. Effective and hypnotic, it’s another strong introduction to the band’s revered output.
5. The Glow – Beamer
LVL UP‘s dissolution earlier this year freed up a lot of time for its members to pursue the other projects they’ve had their names attached to for years. In the case of Mike Caridi, the guitarist/vocalist returned to The Glow. A project that’s been mostly dormant for several years is being revived in earnest, with the dog-happy clip for “Beamer” leading the charge. It’s a colorful clip that illustrates The Glow’s wide-reaching appeal. “Beamer” is also a very welcome reminder that even though LVL UP’s left, Caridi’s here to stay.
A note here, before things get too much further. I try to make it a habit to not write or use a first person perspective on this site and when I do make an exception, it’s to convey the personal connection I have to the material. LVL UP‘s goodbye note and their swan song might go beyond being just personal. Theirs was a band I loved fiercely, from the very moment my friend Sasha introduce me to them at her Chicago apartment. All it took was one live video for me to feel like I was being leveled; they were operating in a genre I loved but subverting it in a way that legitimately obliterated (and subsequently redefined) how I approached writing my own music.
From that point forward, I would listen to the band obsessively. I got to know their side projects, the bands they were in that preceded LVL UP, the bands they were forming. The first time I saw them was with Sasha again at Beat Kitchen in Chicago, where we all shared a meal with Mitski, who was touring alongside the band and in the early stages of becoming a legitimate powerhouse. Over the course of that day and getting to know the people in the band, there was a palpable kindness that was extended to me, operating without the knowledge that I was the one who labored over multiple pieces dissecting what made their music so distinct and so important.
They’d find out by the end of the night and respond in kind but by then, they’d already established themselves as the type of people who create their own families, housing them with empathy and affection. A few years later, I would find myself quite literally sleeping under the roof of their de facto home base, DBTS, during my brief stint living in New York. By that point, I’d already crowned Hoodwink‘d 2014’s Album of the Year and would be a year removed from giving Return to Lovethe same accolade.
It’s incredibly important to note here that those records didn’t receive those positions because LVL UP was kind to me; I had no idea that the members would become integral — if somewhat distant — parts of my life when Sasha hit play on that video. They earned those spots because their music always gave me a sense of belonging, which is exceedingly rare. I was fascinated by the collaboration, which seemed to establish an equal footing, and I was blown away by their articulation of a very specific sect of early adulthood.
Whether Nick, Dave, or Mike were expressing heartache, betrayal, wonderment, isolation, or warmth, the way the narratives took shape always found a way to hit me especially hard. It wasn’t just that the lyrics or instrumentation were impressive, there was an abundance of heart and humility that resonated with me to the point where my countless personal retreats into the worlds they conjured felt like a part of my identity.
Moving into DBTS for a short stretch only served to strengthen and accentuate things that I’d already learned; LVL UP wasn’t just a four person band. LVL UP was a family that extended beyond the confines of music. “They don’t love you like we do” wasn’t just a lyric, it was a way of living that’s spawned unforgettable moments for not just their friends but listeners the world over that found that same connection to their music that I held tight.
Considering every inch of those aspects of the band, their announcement a few short weeks ago and the release of “Orchard” have made the goodbye especially painful. Coming on the back of their most celebrated record (along with signing to Sub Pop), the band’s future seemed wide open. Everything seemed to be clicking, even as the trio of core songwriters dipped into their respective solo projects (Trace Mountains, Spirit Was, and The Glow) with an increased dedication while drummer Greg Rutkin found success in Cende, a band that was gone too soon.
It’s in those solo projects (and the various others that all four members have played pivotal roles) that there resides hope for what LVL UP can offer in the future. Each of their albums, 7″s, and odds and ends compilations encapsulates the kind of legacy that people will point to as a source of inspiration for years to come. “Orchard” is a worthy addition to that legacy and the most bittersweet moment of a discography that never shied away from challenging dichotomies.
Everyone gets a turn in front of the microphone one final time, sharing harmonies together with the knowledge that this will be their last time, imbuing the song with a sense of longing and finality. In that context, “Orchard” becomes devastating; it’s the end of an era that heralded innumerable arrivals, songs, and moments. There’s a palpable weight in the delivery, as if the members of LVL UP themselves were still struggling to come to terms with the decision to have one final outing before hanging up their banner for good.
Over that final three minutes and 48 seconds, the band lean into their interplay to incredible effect, pushing it to the forefront for a deeply felt goodbye. Fittingly, considering the circumstances, “Orchard” is the most melancholic moment of the band’s career, replete with elegiac, swirling organ lines cascading down onto reverb-laden vocals. The song’s kept at mid-tempo but still feels urgent, as if holding back from collapse; mirroring those of us who have struggled with this being the last new song we’ll likely ever hear from the band.
From a narrative perspective, “Orchard” seems to touch on a metaphor that applies to the history these four people have built together, from the ground up. An orchard turns out to be an apt metaphor as LVL UP waxes poetic on the nature of change; life and death being inextricably intertwined, one providing the inevitability of the other. Even through that wistful lens, there’s a sliver of hope in the allowance of rebirth. If “Orchard” truly winds up being the band’s parting gift to those who were fortunate enough to cross the path of their music, it’s an exquisite one.
All we can do now is hope that Nick Corbo, Greg Rutkin, Dave Benson, and Mike Caridi keep finding ways to keep the flames they stoked alive in some way or another. LVL UP’s dissolution may offer difficult routes to reconciliation, but the space it affords is lit with a rare kind of promise that will be a comfort in the ongoing rolling blackout of treasured NYC DIY institutions. Fortunately, the band’s not ready for a final goodbye quite yet and will be taking an extended bow on a farewell tour.
Read the band’s goodbye note and buy tickets for one of the farewell tour dates listed as soon as they become available.
“We have decided to retire this project. It has been an extremely rewarding journey beyond anything we could have ever realistically imagined,” LVL UP said in a statement. “The band began in a college dorm room in 2011 as a lighthearted recording project. We have since been lucky enough to tour nationally and internationally over the last seven years with the support of many lovely people, and will never be able to thank our friends, families, and loved ones enough for providing such warmth throughout this experience. Our deepest gratitude goes out to every label, band, and person who’s played a role in this wild ride.”
08/27 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott
08/28 – Montréal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
08/29 – Toronto, ON @ The Garrison
08/30 – Cleveland, OH @ Mahall’s
08/31 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
09/01 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
09/04 – Missoula, MN @ Union Ballroom
09/05 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
09/06 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
09/08 – San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
09/09 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
09/10 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
09/13 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
09/14 – Austin, TX @ Barracuda
09/16 – Nashville, TN @ High Watt
09/17 – Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
09/18 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
09/19 – Richmond, VA @ The Camel
09/20 – Washington, DC @ DC9
09/21 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
09/28 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Watch a collection of personally shot live videos and listen to “Orchard” below.
We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.
Weaves – 53 + Walkaway
One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.
Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress
Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.
Common Holly – Nothing
Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.
Abraham King – Spit
Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.
METZ – Drained Lake
One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.
Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart
A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.
Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2
Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.
Madeline Kenney – Big One
The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.
Weakened Friends – Hate Mail
While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.
Mike Caridi – Two Dogs
LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.
Grouper – Children
Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.
Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show
Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.
Before diving into the particulars of the forthcoming lists, it’s worth addressing the distinction made in the headline. Each of the categories that received a list in 2015 (music videos, songs, EP’s, albums, odds and ends) will be expanded upon in this post. However, there are still two forthcoming film lists but each of those will include the honorable mentions along with the featured rankings. An obscene amount of great material came out over the 12 months that comprised the past year so any attempts to cover everything would be futile. If anyone’s exhausted the below lists, a more comprehensive version can be found by exploring the following tags: stream, full stream, EP stream, and music video. Explore some of the top tier picks that didn’t make it onto the year-end lists via the tags below.
Ever since relocating back to central Wisconsin from Brooklyn, this place has been playing catch-up in a variety of fields (look at the preceding 15 posts for overwhelming proof), which left live coverage staggering over to the wayside. To partially amend that fact, I’ve compiled a collection of live videos from that rough time frame. Beginning with Krill‘s second-to-last show (an extremely memorable set at DBTS, which ended with literal crowdsurfing) and working to a reprisal of the Bad Wig footage that was contained in the recent review of their EP, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Included in that range are the videos from the first set from The Glow and the second set from Museum of Recycling, an extraordinary full set from site favorites Young Jesus, PWR BTTM and Mitski taking over Wisconsin, Midnight Reruns proving their worth with a powerhouse set in Green Bay, and LVL UP tearing into an inspired rendition of “DBTS” on hallowed ground. All of that and a whole lot more can be seen in the videos below. Enjoy.
For a few years now, SPORTS have been kicking out the kind of scrappy punk-infused basement pop that dominates Salinas’ impressive roster (Swearin’, Radiator Hospital, All Dogs, Purple 7, etc.). The band recently signed with Father/Daughter Records (who have earned themselves a wealth of love from this site) for the release of their forthcoming full-length, the genuinely outstanding All of Something (which was, incidentally, engineered by none other than Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’). The band’s already teased the record with the energetic “Saturday” and offered another look earlier today with the release of “The Washing Machine”.
A touch more grounded than “Saturday”, the band’s latest is a show of both maturation and force, emphasizing a subtle southern sensibility (in a manner not too dissimilar from Hop Along) to produce one of their best songs to date. Like a (thankfully) increasing number of bands in the DIY fold, the band gets a lot of mileage from fixating on elements that constitute life’s minutiae rather than opting to retread the same tired territory. While the overarching narrative still hinges on a relationship, it’s the way the relationship is colored that sets the song apart from a lot of the band’s contemporaries. Balanced, nuanced, and unerringly heartfelt, SPORTS pack enough punch, grit, and scuzz into this 3 minutes and change number to run away with today’s featured spot.
Listen to “The Washing Machine” below and pre-order All of Something from Father/Daughter ahead of its October 30 release date here.