Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Topshelf

Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity (Album Premiere)

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For the past several years, this site’s been tracking Happy Diving with a fair amount of scrutiny. Ever since the band’s scintillating debut, they’ve been making frequent appearances on year-end lists and — more importantly — growing sharper with each successive release. Recently, there was a post that spotlighted “Holy Ground“, a towering  single from the band’s forthcoming sophomore full-length, Electric Soul Unity. Today, it’s my distinct pleasure to be hosting the debut of that record, which stands as a new career high for the project.

Opening with “Bigger World” — a winking nod towards their outstanding debut LP — the band makes no bones about the fact that they’ve dramatically increased the size of their scope. Everything from the production to the songwriting indicates the band’s set loftier goals for themselves from the very outset of the record. Moreover, they’re dead-set on viciously attacking those goals until they’ve been all but completely demolished.

There’s a greater nuance in nearly every facet of their operation, whether it be atmospherics, production design, or reduced to something as simple as the guitar figures that propel Electric Soul Unity skyward. After only a scant few years of existence, Happy Diving have locked into something that feels like a deeply formidable culmination of their already-enviable body of work. It’s an astonishing feat that’s demonstrated in full by Electric Soul Unity‘s opening salvo, a trio of tracks that pack enough punch to flatten any prospective listeners.

When the title track hits, Happy Diving manage to not only strengthen their melodic approach but escalate the velocity of Electric Soul Unity‘s momentum considerably, creating the kind of magnetic pull that can be genuinely intimidating. By immediately scaling back to one of their most gentle moments to date in the following track, “Head Spell”, the band illustrate the depth of their understanding in creating and dissolving tension through sequencing, a trait that benefits the record enormously.

Of course, “Head Spell” only maintains that relative quiet for so long before launching a cavalcade of the kind of heavily bruised slacker-punk-informed shoegaze they’ve all but perfected with this record. The feedback comes surging in and Happy Diving continue to unleash a series of blows that are effectively heightened by the moments where it rescinds its attack in favor of something a lot more calming.

It’s a brief reprieve that carves out an area for the band that Happy Diving all but annihilates with a series of tracks in the record’s mid-section that match, if not outstrip, the ferocity of its opening trio. Before that memory’s gone completely, the band returns to the less forceful side of things with the laid-back opening half of the deeply compelling “Pain Country” that continues to expand the band’s musical range in ways that are both fascinating and surprisingly meaningful, pushing the boundaries of a very niche genre in a manner that fully illustrates why Happy Diving deserves to be set apart from the majority of their contemporaries.

“Pain Country” also sets up the record’s lone acoustic ballad, “Unknown Feeling”, with tremendous clarity, heightening both songs by virtue of placement. In “Unknown Feeling”, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Matt Berry’s allowed the room to both showcase his improved gifts as a lyricists and underscore the narrative themes of Electric Soul Unity, capitalizing on both opportunities with the kind of understated grace that drives much of the record.

“Holding up my head to see the view, with you / but I don’t feel the way I want it to, it’s true” is the couplet that opens “Unknown Feeling”, hinting at the longings, frustrations, self-loathing, and near-irreparable romantic damage that constitutes the half-shared, half-abandoned bed of Electric Soul Unity‘s surprisingly emotional narrative core. By the time the grand finale rolls around in the form of the characteristically explosive “River Will Flow”, it feels celebratory due to not only its surface elements but because its, in part, the piece that both completes and frees the overwhelmingly down-trodden, world-weary cycle that precedes the track.

In all, Electric Soul Unity is a record that examines the human condition in dire moments, yet recognizes that there’s so much more than some small modicum of life-giving moments that also comprise those stretches. Happy Diving specifically targets that dichotomy and emphasize the tempered clarity that can accompany the self-discovery typically attained in those moments.

The record derives a considerable amount of power from exploiting those divides and then expands them outwards through exceedingly thoughtful arrangements that establish the band  as contemporary heavyweights. Thanks to its consistency, its depth of intelligence, and its staggering comprehension, Electric Soul Unity doesn’t just stand as one of 2016’s finest records but one of its most essential. It’s an extraordinary effort from a band that’s more than ready to take on any challengers and it won’t go down without putting up an unforgettable fight.

Listen to Electric Soul Unity below and pre-order the record from Topshelf here.

Artie Tea – Out Of A Seaweed Dream (Album Review)

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Snail Mail, Rod, Midwives, Post Pink, Jordaan Mason, Holy Monitor, and Strange Relations were among the shortlist of bands who unveiled excellent full streams over the course of this site’s recent gap in coverage and they’re all more than deserving of heavy levels of investment. The band claiming the featured spot for this post, however, is a new one that boasts an impressive pedigree; one of Topshelf’s most recent releases, Artie Tea’s Out Of A Seaweed Dream.

 Between the band’s two members, Josh Croteau and Derek Desharnais, the band’s racked up an impressive number of direct connections (including The Clippers, Sneeze, Fucko, and Cough Cough). Combining those acts only hints at Artie Tea’s identity, which echoes shades of classic shoegaze and a few unlikely contemporaries like LVL UP (Croteau’s vocal delivery is particularly reminiscent of Dave Benton’s).

“Attitude” immediately sets the tone for the band’s debut, Out Of A Seaweed Dream, which is overflowing with memorable mid-tempo stompers, killer hooks, and the kind of deceptive discontentment that can serve as propulsive fuel for the creation of praiseworthy art. Throughout the record’s eight tracks and sub-25 minute runtime, Artie Tea never once strikes a false note and creates an intuitive chemistry that serve their songs beautifully.

It’s another winsome notch in an increasingly formidable string of releases from Topshelf Records, who are quickly transforming themselves into a legitimate powerhouse by expanding their horizons in subtle, compelling ways. Out Of A Seaweed Dream‘s not just a surprise standout for the label, it’s one of the year’s great small records. In its almost-title track, “Seaweed Dream”, it even ably demonstrates the band’s scope is likely much larger than what’s offered on their debut. When that reveal finally comes, it looks to be a fulfilling moment. Until then, we should all be more than content to just play these eight songs into oblivion.

Listen to Out Of A Seaweed Dream below and pick it up from Topshelf here.

Happy Diving – Holy Ground (Stream)

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Omni, Earth GirlsVanity, Total Slacker, Eluvium, Navy Gangs, Skinny Blonde, Kindling, Few Bits, and Sleepy all released songs in the past two weeks that came incredibly close to being featured on this site. In the end, the featured spot for this post wound up going to a band that’s been featured here several times before: Happy Diving. Following up one of last year’s best 7″ records, the band’s started unveiling incredibly promising pieces of their forthcoming sophomore effort, Electric Soul Unity.

Most recently, they released the surprisingly gorgeous “Head Spell” — which easily could have claimed a feature spot of its own if there were more time — but the spotlight here falls to the first glimpse of the record they offered up to the public: “Holy Ground”. Clocking in at under two minutes, “Holy Ground” hits with all of the unrelenting force that defined their best work but also equips itself with a more nuanced finesse that nicely underpins the song’s more beautiful, if extremely damaged, aspects.

Soaring guitars, swirling feedback, an absolutely vicious rhythm section, and impassioned vocals constitute the foundation of “Holy Ground” and the band opts to not only embrace but emphasize those traits. Everything Happy Diving does exists happily in the red and they’ve figured out how to make that aesthetic beneficial to their compositions. Punishing, unapologetic, and oddly soothing, “Holy Ground” is the rallying cry of a band at the peak of their powers, warning anyone in earshot to either get out of the way or to fully commit to being trampled.

Listen to “Holy Ground” below and pre-order Electric Soul Unity from Topshelf here.

Ratboys – Not Again (Music Video)

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Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Ever since the release of last year’s excellent AOID, site favorites Ratboys have been on a very winsome streak. The current culmination of that streak is their outstanding digital single “Not Again“, which saw the band continuing to elevate themselves into a serious force via their own organic evolution. Now, the band’s unveiled a charming music video to accompany the track.

The endearing clip, which comes courtesy of Kenna Hynes and Tiny Ship Co., finds an empowering bent in a fairly simplistic structure; the band practices, the band gets into a paint fight, and the paint fight becomes a more communal act once the band opens themselves up to the public. It’s in the latter part of the clip’s composition where the subtle, elegant metaphor kicks in and touches on the dynamic shifts from practice to performance. It’s a surprisingly elegant statement, made even more uplifting for the warmth its given in the visual treatment.

The slow-motion sequences of “Not Again” are beautifully composed and both video and song wind up in a healthy symbiotic relationship that pushes each foundation to greater heights. It’s another perfect step forward for Ratboys, who are hitting a formidable stride. More importantly, it’s a reminder that embracing music can be as important as embracing your friends (and vice versa). Funny, heartening, and just about perfect, this is a clip worth remembering.

Watch “Not Again” below and pick up the digital single from the band here.

Ratboys – Not Again (Stream)

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Last year, Ratboys quietly put out one of 2016’s best records with AOID, a record that’s only benefited from repeat listens (which have existed in abundance). The band’s returned with the playful “Not Again”, a welcome breath of fresh air. Before going too far into the examination  of “Not Again”, though, a handful of other great tunes should be mentioned. Since the start of April, a whole host of worthwhile songs have appeared, including releases from Grieving, Little Scream, Bengtsarvet, Empty Houses, Ultraviolence, LUKA, Dave Harrington Group, The Shaker Hymn, and Greater Pyreneese. Despite those tracks’ formidable strengths, it was Ratboys who secured the feature spot.

AOID saw the quartet sharpening their songwriting approach, fine-tuning how they implemented the folk and Americana attributes of their aesthetic into something that closely resembles basement pop but still manages to sound singular, while faintly recalling some of the finest acts on Saddle Creek, a label that built their reputation on bands who boasted a similar musical blend. “Not Again” finds Ratboys’ songwriting growing even sharper, with the band paying a greater interest to choices in dynamics, resulting in one of their fullest-sounding tracks to date.

Additionally, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Julia Steiner has grown more assured in the band’s narrative approach, concocting an acutely-realized dissection on mortality that functions as a celebration of being alive to experience life in its maddening, confounding, and ultimately reassuring fullness. The lyric set here is just as impressive as the crisp instrumental work and production, with everything coming together seamlessly to ensure “Not Again” its rightful place as the band’s current career highlight.

On a level that’s purely concerned with composition, “Not Again” registers as incredibly thoughtful, even for a band that’s already known for their abilities as songwriters. This is never more clear than in the sudden burst of power that closes the song out, following a quiet, enticing bridge. It’s the perfect way to end a song that may very well signal an entirely new level for the band as a unit, both in terms of artistry and commercial success. In any case, the fact that they’re continuing to make music and continuously improving in the process is more than enough cause for celebration.

Listen to “Not Again” below and download it from the band here.

2015: Halfway Home (Mixtape)

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Only a little past its halfway point, 2015’s already been an absurdly strong year for music. Numerically staggering, it’s yielded a handful of classics across a variety of genres and a plethora of outstanding small releases. While this mix skews more towards the latter than, say, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s still worth noting how kind this year’s release schedule has been across the board. To reflect on some of this year’s best offerings so far- and to celebrate this site’s 550th post- a mixtape’s been curated for your enjoyment. Nearly all of these songs and artists have been featured on the site previously, lending this particular mix a more retrospective feel than a few of the past entries in the mixtape series, but they’re all worth celebrating as much as possible. Ranging from folk and ambient flourishes to heavy 90’s influences to thoroughly modern post-punk to spritely basement pop, there’s an entry for just about every genre marker that receives regular coverage on the site.

So, without further ado, here’s a mixtape of some of 2015’s strongest highlights (at least so far, there are still quite a few promising items for the year’s latter half). The tracklist for 2015: Halfway Home can be found beneath the embed. Enjoy.



1. Girlpool – Before The World Was Big

2. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock
3. Mean Creek – Forgotten Streets
4. Royal Headache – Hgih
5. Radioactivity – Pretty Girl
6. Diet Cig – Breathless
7. Washer – Joe
8. Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best
9. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up
10. Torres – Sprinter
11. Jason Isbell – 24 Frames (Live)
12. theweaselmartenfisher – Empty Bucket List
13. Pupppy – Puking (Merry Christmas!)

14. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast
15. Fraser A. Gorman – Shiny Gun
16. Young Jesus – Milo
17. Girls Names – Reticence
18. Institute – Cheerlessness
19. Happy Diving – So Bunted
20. Downies – Widow
21. Meat Wave – Erased
22. Connor La Mue – Stargazer
23. Bruising – Think About Death
24. Meredith Graves – Took The Ghost to the Movies
25. Yowler – The Offer

Happy Diving – So Bunted (Stream)

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Once more, with feeling: I’ve been caught up in travel arrangements over the past week and a half but I haven’t let new music escape me during that time. I’ve kept a detailed record of everything that’s caught my attention and, unsurprisingly, the bulk of those materials were single tracks. As was the case in the previous two posts, a list of 15 of the strongest highlights to emerge throughout that time frame have been included below the embed of the song earning the feature spot. In this case, that song’s a blistering reminder of the myriad strengths of site favorites Happy Diving.

The band’s exhilarating debut for Father/Daughter Records (another site favorite), Big World, established the band’s identity as well as their reputation for crafting feedback-heavy downer pop. Taking just as many cues from 90’s alt. as shoegaze, the band have conjured up yet another sharp blast of reverb-laden melancholy with “So Bunted”, the title track from a forthcoming 7″ that also marks their first release for the increasingly impressive Topshelf Records (Happy Diving’s signing follows a series of impressive moves from the label and the acquisition of Happy Diving rates as one of their strongest). Effortlessly pairing melancholy with urgency has always been one of the band’s strongest draws and “So Bunted” is a masterclass in that particular dynamic, creating a compelling whirlwind of soaring guitars and bleak emotions. Not a single moment of the track’s 134 seconds are wasted and if this is indicative of what Happy Diving has in store for Topshelf, then we’re all in for one hell of a ride.

Listen to “So Bunted” below and pre-order the 7″ from Topshelf directly here. Beneath the embed are 15 more songs that deserve paragraphs worth of praise and to be added to just about any collection.

Broen – Iris
Jessie Jones – Sugar Coated
FFS – Call Girl
Creepoid – Shaking
Weaves – Tick
Cyberbully Mom Club – No-Fun
Oscar – Stay
HEALTH – Stonefist
Ducktails – Surreal Exposure
Hibou – Dissolve
The Armed – Paradise Day
theweaselmartenfisher – Draw Back Your Bow
The Rashita Joneses – My Finger
Operation Simon – Innervation
Blacklisters – Cash Cow

Diamond Youth – Thought I Had It Right (Music Video)

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Pressing on with the onslaught of coverage from some of last week’s most memorable titles, this collection contains a handful of great songs and one great video. Maribou State’s glitchy, heavily atmospheric “Wallflower“, Sea Cycles’ woozy, kaleidoscopic “Diving Bell“, O-Face’s massive, insistent “740 Turbo“, and Seapony’s breezy “Saw the Light” constituted the entries for the single song category. The visually striking black-and-white clip for Diamond Youth’s anthemic “Thought I Had It Right” gets the title spot thanks to some arresting visuals and brilliant editing. Every smash cut’s meticulously cued to a change or specific element (snare hit, etc.) of the song and the end result’s surprisingly engaging. It’s a deceptively clever video that propels an already good song to the realms of greatness. Incorporating weird special effects, old film clips, stock footage, and live edits, “Thought I Had It Right” takes on a life of its own and the end results are spectacular. This is a masterclass in how to create an effective music video; take notes.

Watch “Thought I Had It Right” below and order Nothing Matters from Topshelf here.

Blue Smiley – OK (Album Stream)

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Single streams and music videos, while making up the bulk of this site’s recent coverage, weren’t the only categories to boast some genuinely remarkable titles over the past week or so. Full streams still accounted for a handful of genuine treasures, which included the following: Summer Camp’s heavily damaged and electro-tinged rave-up Bad Love, Ratboys’ endearingly ragged basement pop triumph AOID, Hollow Sunshine’s punishing shoegaze-heavy post-punk knockout Bring Gold, and So Stressed‘s unflinchingly modern post-hardcore masterpiece The Unlawful Trade of Roman-Greco Art. A much less publicized record, Blue Smiley’s OK, received a shot in the leg by way of the announcement of a physical release.

The band had previously released OK (not to be confused with Eskimeaux’s brilliant O.K.) as a name-your-price download on their bandcamp but it’s finally seeing an official release through Third Floor Tapes. The record itself is a short burst of fuzz-damaged eclecticism that swings between noise-punk and basement pop with a practiced finesse. It’s a deeply impressive work that showcases the band’s innate ability to craft intensely dynamic songs with surprisingly contained run-times. A perfect example of this is “Flower”, which transitions from a heavy shoegaze bent to off-kilter outsider pop on a dime. None of the 10 tracks here waste a single second and the end result is an exhilarating ride that veers off in a handful of unexpected directions, rarely bothering to come back to their starting points. Not only is it one of 2015’s most fascinating releases- it’s also worthy of purchasing when it gets the releases it so richly deserves.

Listen to OK below and keep an eye on Third Floor Tapes for the record’s release on June 1.

Girlpool – Before the World Was Big (Music Video)

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Allyssa Yohana’s tenderly constructed and affecting clip for the title track off of Girlpool’s upcoming Before The World Was Big was one of the most intrinsically human pieces of art unveiled over the last few days. In an age that so readily celebrates bombast, grandeur, and general post-production gloss to achieve greater accessibility, when something that feels as deeply personal as “Before The World Was Big Arrives” arrives it becomes even more arresting than it would have been stripped of industry context. That’s not to say there weren’t other pieces of multimedia that made an impression over the past few days. As always, there was a steady influx of material worth hearing, both in the single and full stream categories.

Representing the single streams were Heyrocco’s spiky basement pop rave-up “Loser Denial“, Looming’s compellingly dark “Onwards“,  Nots’ manic “Virgin Mary“, Mutoid Man’s oddly punishing “Reptilian Soul“, Future Death’s frenetic “Familial Tremors“, Sitcom’s intuitively layered “Ginger Ale“, The Velvet Teen’s triumphant return in “The Giving In”, and an absolute monster of a collaboration between Ghostface Killah, Adrian Younge, Raekwon, and RZA entitled “Return Of The Savage“. While the full streams didn’t quite match the sheer volume of that collection of songs, they matched their strength. Dustin Lovelis’ sprawling punk-leaning psych-pop Dimensions revealed all the makings of an unexpected contemporary classic, Nocturnal Sunshine’s brooding, glitchy self-titled, and Town Portal’s restless The Occident. For music videos, there was Girlpool’s “Before The World Was Big” and that was more than enough.

Girlpool have earned their fare share of written content on here over the years and a lot of the reasoning for that can be clearly evidenced in “Before The World Was Big”. Both in the song, which is an exquisitely rendered burst of well-placed nostalgia, and the video, which eschews any unnecessary distractions to present something heartfelt and honest. While the home-movie VHS aesthetic has been to death in music videos at this point, it can still maximize emotional impact when paired with the right content. Here, the visuals act in perfect tandem to their soundtrack, emphasizing both the yearning and uncertainty present in the lyrics while simultaneously relaying the duo’s joy of simply being together to share in their experiences. It’s a deceptively complex structure that winds up with an unshakable resonance thanks to the abundance of care and genuine feeling. It’s a short, sublime piece of work that feels perfectly representative of the band and their ideologies while retaining an atmosphere that suggests Before The World Was Big is going to be something truly special.

Watch “Before The World Was Big” and pre-order the album of the same name from Wichita here.