Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Trace Mountains

LVL UP – Orchard (Stream, Live Videos)

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 Love the 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.

The Best Full Streams of March 2018

The closing three weeks of March unearthed a handful of extraordinary records from emergent acts and proven entities. Five of the best to find release over that time are listed below, covering a spectrum that stretches from twee-laced indie pop to uncompromising noise/punk. All of the records on display here are standouts for one reason or another and uniformly deserve more attention than they’ll get (though some will undoubtedly have very strong and vocal praise). Dive in below and enjoy the swim.

1. Empath – Liberating Guilt and Fear

A basement punk supergroup of sorts, Empath have the unlikely and unenviable task of distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the acts in the members’ collective history. Liberating Guilt and Fear goes a long way in making sure that’s achieved. Blistering, fun, and unforgiving, Empath’s versatility and ability to combine patches that seem at odds make Liberating Guilt and Fear one of the essential releases of 2018’s first quarter. Unpredictable and brilliant, it’s an EP that’s not to be missed.

2. Major Murphy – No. 1

Major Murphy‘s been around for a handful of years now but the band seems set to make a bigger push than ever with No. 1, a gently kaleidoscopic work of art that deftly combines elements of psych, powerpop, and basement punk into a hypnotic whole. Exceptional composition and production always play well off each other but it’s an especially effective combination when, as is the case here, they work in tandem to create an additional layer of depth. In all, an extremely pleasant surprise.

3. Frankie Cosmos – Vessel

Over what’s already an illustrious and surprisingly expansive career, Frankie Cosmos (both as a solo project and in full band mode) have never delivered a disappointing record. While that sort of consistency is a testament to a rare brand of prolific talent, there’s still a sliver of room allowed for something like Vessel; a record that towers above the others and visibly stands as a career high. Combining new material and reworked versions of old staples, Vessel also manages to come across as a representational statement that’s primed to resonate for years to come.

4. Charles – Charles II

One of the avenues that places like Heartbreaking Bravery are afforded is the personal submission. Far more often than not, it’s a wasteland of mediocrity that’s intended audience strays far from this site’s sensibilities. Then there are rare occasions where something like Charles’ Charles II shows up and completely justifies the hundreds of hours spent sifting through that material.

One of the most astonishing basement punk records of 2018 so far, Charles II is a tightly-controlled explosion of an EP, calling to mind the legacy of acts like Four Eyes, Dogs On Acid, and Bent Shapes. Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate, support, and promote releases like this one and anytime one lands in the mailbox, it’s not just a thrill, it’s a reminder of why this place exists. So stop reading this and just hit play already.

5. Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On

LVL UP‘s Dave Benson has been performing as Trace Mountains for a handful of years now and already has one record that’s considering something of a bedroom pop cult classic in 2016’s Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs. A continued critical and commercial ascension for Benson’s main vehicle’s ensured an additional layer of visibility and anticipation for any work bearing the songwriter’s name but A Partner To Lean On seems to have neatly avoided any pitfalls of that pressure.

Benson subverts all sorts of expectations on A Partner To Lean On, from leaning into a new embrace of synth-pop to wildly expanding the project’s ambitions while, impressively, managing to keep the record grounded. Like Frankie Cosmos’ Vessel, Trace Mountains’ latest is an enticing mixture of new material and reworked versions of old offerings. It’s a complete work and in the record’s pitch-perfect title track, Benson crafts another viable candidate for Song of the Year.

The 35 Best Songs of 2018’s First Two Months

Two months and one week into 2018, the year’s already seen a slew of legitimately great songs. Below are 35 that managed to stand just a cut above the bevvy of incoming tracks that populated the most recent post on this site. While a select few picks below have two entries in this list, it’s still a varied list that features a diverse cast of overflowing talent. It should also be noted that a few songs were cut from consideration as the records they belong to will be featured in an upcoming post. At any rate, no matter how the tallies for representation work, this list is a testament to the strength of 2018’s early material. Make sure these aren’t forgotten.

1. Say Sue Me – Old Town

Last year, Say Sue Me put out an intoxicating and winsome record and are already gearing up for the release of a new record. “Old Town”, the strongest single to emerge from the early round of releases for the project’s forthcoming Where We Were Together, acts as a memorable showcase of what made people fall so hard for this band in the first place. Breezy melodies, smart arrangements, and a paradoxical mixture of urgency and relaxation combine once again for one of early 2018’s most charming tracks.

2. Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out

“Put A Record Out” bristles and grunts out of the gate and gains a head of steam as things move along, embracing the noise/punk flourishes that have come to define the current era’s iteration of post-punk. It’s Canshaker Pi making a willfully gnarled statement and delivering it with enough force to make sure it leaves a sizable imprint. When it’s done, it’s enough to leave a listener breathless. Keep up or get trampled.

3. Jay Som – Hot Bread

The rightful owner of this site’s Best Song of 2016 distinction, Jay Som has been not-so-quietly making waves over the last year. Racking up an endless amount of accolades and new listeners, the tireless Melina Duterte has remained on a tear, releasing new music at a startling rate. “Hot Bread”, released as part of a Valentine’s Day playlist for Amazon, ably demonstrates that Jay Som’s scope will continue to grow with the project’s ambitions, leaving us to count ourselves lucky to be witnesses.

4. (SANDY) Alex G – fay

An enigmatic release from an increasingly subversive artist, “fay” stands as one of the crown jewels of (SANDY) Alex G‘s recent efforts. Posted to the act’s official YouTube account with no type of buildup or press release, the song’s allowed to breathe freely (and gently) on its own terms. Paired with a truly bizarre “about” statement, “fay” acts as a mesmerizing puzzle box full of the kind of sticks-for-weeks hooks that (SANDY) Alex G built a name on, it’s a welcome reminder of a formidable talent.

5. Big Ups – PPP

Big Ups have staked their claim as one of the most fascinating hardcore-leaning acts in recent memory and snarled at anyone who even tried to touch the flag they planted. To remind everyone of how they earned their place, the band ushered out “PPP” as an advance warning to what’ll surely lie in wait on the band’s forthcoming Two Parts Together. Intricate harmonic work, versatile performances, and unhinged bristling combine for another intense triumph.

6. illuminati hotties – (You’re Better) Than Ever

“(You’re Better) Than Ever” will act as an introductory piece to illuminati hotties for a great many and it’s hard to imagine too many people walking away from the band’s warm invitation. A sunny melody shot through with basement pop trappings, “(You’re Better) Than Ever” succeeds on every level, from pristine production to bursts of joyous, unbridled energy. It’s a strong starting step for a band that seems determined to take off sprinting.

7-8. Forth Wanderers – Nevermine + Not For Me

A band on a continuous uptick, Forth Wanderers prove once again why their name carries weight with this two song combo that reasserts their position as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. “Nevermine” and “Not For Me” are both — in what’s become a heartening trend, as it happens with each of their new releases — career high points for the band, who have matured into a confident, focused machine, finding a way to retain an abundance of heart in the process.

9. Hit Bargain – Capitulate

One of a handful of songs on this list that act as a razor-sharp burst of noise-punk, “Capitulate” finds Hit Bargain intentionally wielding a level of ugliness with unbridled aggression. It’s a furious run through genre touch points that takes on life as it barrels headlong into some unknown destination. The band’s expertise is evident and their execution is flawless, rendering “Capitulate” a potent warning of Hit Bargain’s capabilities.

10. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down To The Tree, Read A Book, And When I Was Done I Went Back Inside

A mainstay of this site’s coverage, Kal Marks has continuously expanded their ambition with each successive release and “Today I Walked Down To The Tree…” keeps that trend in place. A winding, four minute slow-burner, the song finds Kal Marks at their most unabashedly pensive. While Kal Marks still finds moments of catharsis in those minutes, the experience as a whole towers above its individual moments; it’s a breathtaking feat from a band always worth hearing.

11. Stef Chura – Degrees

“Degrees” has been covered more exhaustively than any other individual Stef Chura release thanks to the involvement of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo.  Hopefully Toledo’s high-profile involvement will be more than enough to turn people onto Chura’s excellent early work. At any rate, “Degrees” — a towering piece of incredibly strong Americana-tinged indie rock — does stand as Chura’s boldest effort to date and effectively heightens the anticipation for what the songwriter’s future holds in store.

12. Juan De Fuca – A Place To Wait

A few seconds is all it takes for Juan De Fuca’s “A Place To Wait” to announce itself with clarity. A post-punk number shot through with nervous jitters, the track seems simplistic at first blush before rewarding a closer look with a tapestry of layers. Delivered with confidence, teeming with feeling, and unafraid to reach for stratospheric heights, “A Place To Wait” became one of 2018’s more pleasant surprises and it’s hard to imagine that status changing.

13. Haley Hendrickx – Untitled God Song

Oom Sha La La” was a song that managed to hook a whole lot of people into Haley Hendrickx‘s world but it also set a dangerously high precedent. “Untitled God Song” went a long way in assuaging any lingering doubts. A slow, tender track, “Untitled God Song” finds Hendrickx establishing a voice, marrying empathy with wariness to great effect. Warm tones and an arresting vocal delivery ensure the song a place as a piece of breathtaking artistry.

14. Superchunk – Erasure

Storied veterans making comebacks that reassert the band’s music as relevant among a new sect of contemporaries isn’t all that common, which is why when it happens it tends to be doubly impressive. That’s exactly the scenario Superchunk has found themselves in since the release of Majesty Shredding and it’s a space they continue to occupy with What A Time To Be Alive, which boasted “Erasure” as a lead-off single. All told: Still energetic, still distinctive, still perfectly Superchunk.

15-16. Frankie Cosmos – Jesse + Being Alive

Over an endless amount of self-releases and some incredibly smart campaigning, Frankie Cosmos have found themselves in an unlikely position of being revered as a bastion of consistency and as a tantalizing emergent act. Greta Kline’s project has navigated the transition from solo project to full band with no shortage of grace and the band, now more than ever, feels complete. Both “Jesse” and “Being Alive” prove the band’s as adept at invention as reinvention, keeping Frankie Cosmos’ unassuming charm intact all the while.

17. Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back

Few records over the first two months of this year have proved to be as inventive as Kid Dakota‘s Denervation, a collection of kaleidoscopic powerpop that’s highlighted by the inspired 7-minute “Keep Coming Back”. Intricate arrangements, a cavalcade of effective hooks, and a casual assurance congeal into something ridiculously captivating. Whether it’s the snaky snyth riff or the stabs of the guitar-led bridge or the extended outro, “Keep Coming Back” makes sure it offers enough to make a strong case to heed the title’s command.

18. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Riddles

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat already boasts a 4+ year history of crafting memorably minimalist post-punk, which made the band’s announcement of a Dan Deacon-produced record as enticing as it was baffling. On Riddles the duo hits new heights by leaping outside of their established narrative to cling onto something unexpected, a move and effect underscored nicely by the record’s piano-driven title track that sees the band falling a lot closer to early Cold Cave than Death From Above 1979.

19. Pale Kids – St. Theresa

Father/Daughter Records has become a proven entity in securing bands that effectively fuse outsize energy with unapologetic sincerity and Pale Kids are no exception. “St. Theresa” stands as proof of the formula, with the quartet leaning into a 2 minute outburst of hyper-melodic basement pop. Pointed, unrestrained, and fueled by as much snark as conviction, “St. Theresa” is yet another welcome shot of adrenaline from the promising quartet.

20. Many Rooms – which is to say, everything

The first moment of genuine tranquility on this list belongs to Many Room‘s gorgeous “which is to say, everything”. Pitched at a hush, the song soothes the nerves as it glides along for its four minutes, never rising past a measured whisper. Informed by both a sense of a loss and a sense of curiosity, “which is to say, everything” positions Many Rooms as an act whose name is worth committing to memory.

21-22. Boys – End of Time + Rabbits

Accentuating dream pop influences in powerpop has served bands like Alvvays incredibly well over the past few years. Boys is another name to add to that list, with the act releasing two beautiful pieces centered around that genre hybrid in “End of Time” and “Rabbits”. “End of Time” showcasing the band’s sense of reservation and “Rabbits” playing to their own curious brand of insistence. Composed and beautifully crafted, they’re worthy additions to any carefree summer night playlist.

23. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

Far and away the most country-leaning track among these 35 selections, Courtney Marie Andrews proves what the genre can still offer when it extends beyond a set of self-imposed limitations. Bringing strains of gospel influence to the forefront, Andrews manages to craft a heartfelt paean to the virtues of kindness. As the organ swells and the choir provides support, the collaborative balance finds itself intrinsically connected to the song’s central message. When it ends, the song does everything in its power to make sure its message is heard.

24. Walter Martin – Me & McAlevey

One of the more unexpected delights in recent music has been the quiet emergence of Walter Martin — best known for his organ playing in The Walkmen — as a singular songwriting force. Last year’s My Kinda Music was an extraordinary (and woefully overlooked) presentation of Martin’s abilities and boasted a handful of gems like “Hey Matt“, a song that gets a lovely sequel in “Me & McAlevey”. It’s another piece of affecting folk shot through with a distinctly modern wit.

25. Liza Anne – Small Talks

In its first minute Liza Anne‘s “Small Talks” manages to be reminiscent of a handful of recent artists and songs, yet it never comes across like an imitation and hits the considerable heights of its predecessors. Exuberant, determined, and delivered with as much urgency as conviction, “Small Talks” manages to sink its hooks in deep. An utterly winsome technicolor burst of warmth and certainty, it’s incredibly endearing- and worth leaving on repeat.

26-27. Trace Mountains – Cary’s Dreams + Turn Twice

While most people are likely to know Dave Benson from LVL UP, the songwriter’s solo project, Trace Mountains, has been releasing equally rewarding material for years (with a handful of instances of those songs becoming breeding grounds for LVL UP reworkings). On “Cary’s Dream” and “Turn Twice”, Benson manages to look to the forward and reach to the past. “Cary’s Dreams” is a testament to Benson’s vision, offering up a reminder of his considerable gifts while “Turn Twice” — first released in demo form several years ago — proves just how effective the multi-instrumentalist is with a bold brand of reinvention.

28. Paul De Jong – You Fucken Sucker

Opening with electro glitches and a hypnotic strumming pattern, Paul De Jong‘s “You Fucken Sucker” quickly changes shape as the lyrics kick in as a soothing voice starts reciting the verses to Mary Had A Little Lamb before things change even more drastically. It’s in the reveal of the chorus where the song separates itself and arrives as something intoxicating in its willingness to beguile. A playful piece shot through with dark humor, “You Fucken Sucker” more than proves that Paul De Jong is still fully capable of thriving outside of The Books.

29. Remember Sports – Up From Below

The return of Remember Sports — formerly just SPORTS — at the onset of 2018 got the year off to a heartening start. “Up From Below” quickly followed that announcement to make it abundantly clear that the band had held onto their sense of tenacity as well as their ability to craft a perfect piece of basement pop. Med-fi, hyper, and ridiculously catchy, “Up From Below” has already set an extremely precedent for what the future might have in store.

30. Fenne Lily. – On Hold

The opening bars of Fenne Lily.’s mesmerizing “On Hold” should be all it takes to secure just about anyone’s interest. Delivered with arresting tenderness, those first moments are strengthened as the song takes shape, exercising a measure of restraint that doubles as unexpected, incredibly cultivated tension. There are no big moments of catharsis but “On Hold” has different goals in mind; every step of the journey is as important as moments of celebration. Spellbinding from start to close, “On Hold” is a well-earned triumph.

31. Vundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk

Over the past few months, Vundabar have found the size of their audience rapidly growing and it’s in large part due to the artistic leap the band’s taken with songs like “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk”. Teeming with memorable riffs, unexpected dynamics, and a butcher’s selection of hooks, “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” almost comes across like a victory lap. Vundabar have found a way to heighten every single one of their innumerable strengths and the results are already paying off. “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” is a keepsake for everyone fortunate enough to be following along.

32-33. Bonny Doon – A Lotta Things + I Am Here (I Am Alive)

When Salinas released Bonny Doon‘s sweeping self-titled record last year, it was greeted as the band’s coming out party. A lot of people took notice of the band’s charismatic, including the reliably excellent Woodsist label who quickly found a way to get the band on their roster. With “A Lotta Things” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)” now both out in the world, it’s plainly evident that Woodsist made another in a history of great decisions, as Bonny Doon have found a way to capitalize on their sprawling punk-informed Americana. Both tracks are new career highs for the band and offer a strong signal that for many, their forthcoming Longwave could just wind up in the discussion for Album of the Year.

34. Half Waif – Torches

All it took was seeing a recent Half Waif set for the band to significantly elevate their position of interest to this site’s overall coverage. While the band’s older material had been touched upon several times in the past, it’s in their new material where they’ve tapped into something that feels genuinely different. “Torches” is a perfect example of that new space, as it presents the most fully-realized version of the band’s identity to date, opening up their synth-led electro-pop into something a touch more experimental and a degree more forceful. Unapologetic in its stance and fearless in its execution, “Torches” marks an exciting new era for a band worthy of a close watch.

35. Mount Eerie – Distortion

The recent decision to list Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” as 2017’s Song of the Year — let alone, covered at all — was a surprisingly difficult one due to its tragic, uncomfortably intimate narrative. How Phil Elverum’s project has sustained multiple tour runs in support of that record is beyond the comprehension of most observers, who have left those shows visibly shaken. Elverum recently rolled out a sequel to that record, which continues to expand on the sudden death of his wife and his trepidation over how to greet single parenthood in the shadow of the other person responsible for his daughter’s very being.

“Distortion”, an 11-minute tour de force, was one of the first looks at Now Only and remains one of its most awkward, gripping moments. From the devastating opening verse to allegories invoking beat poets, every second of “Distortion” is felt in full as Elverum continues to allow us full access into an unimaginable position. By repeatedly tearing open his wounds, Elverum seems to be searching for a means to heal, cautiously allowing listeners to join the grieving, the fears, the concerns, and the memories of a woman who’s come to define a good portion of his own existence. It’s brutally unforgiving but in its own way, it finds a sliver of beauty in the empathy that it presents. In short: it’s unforgettable.

Six Weeks of Music Videos (Video Mixtape)

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Six weeks is a long time to go without posting an individual feature piece on a music video (discounting premieres). With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s not surprising that many of the clips that have come out in the time this site’s been on a relative hiatus, there have been a handful of the format’s best entries for the 2016 crop. PUP maintained their unrelenting stranglehold on an obscene level of excellence with the most emotionally affecting clip of a ridiculously impressive filmography, Vagabon emerged with a galvanizing sense of renewed purpose, Emilyn Brodsky continued to do wonders with stop motion, Tenement continued to further their own distinct identity in the visual arts department, The Seams offered up a double dose of refined hyper-editing, and everyone else found a way to rise above their contemporaries to create indelible pieces of art worth celebrating. So, below, dive in and get comfortable with the best 25 clips of the past six weeks.

Additional note: Trace Mountains’ excellent clip for “Bring the Mountain to Me” wasn’t available on YouTube and couldn’t be included in the below mix. Make sure to give that one a watch as well.

1. PUP – Sleep in the Heat
2. Meat Wave – The Incessant
3. Stove – Blank
4. The Seams – Remembrance Day
5. Holy Tunics – Forget Your Love
6. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win
7. Vagabon – The Embers
8. Hellrazor – Raise Your Rifle
9. Lazertits – Boss Bitch
10. Slothrust – Rotten Pumpkin
11. Vacation – Every Direction
12. The Raveonettes – Fast Food
13. Poppies – Told
14. WHOOP-Szo – Another Show
15. Bruising – I Don’t Mind
16. Sløtface – Bright Lights
17. Tim Darcy – Tall Glass of Water
18. Self Talk – Untitled 
19. Petal – Chandelier
20. Tenement – Hive of Hives
21. Stef Chura – Spotted Gold
22. Fred Thomas – Voiceover
23. Emilyn Brodsky – Hands Off the Stove
24. The Seams – Seeds
25. MOURN – Irrational Friend

14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014

LVL UP II

One last time for one last 2014 list: “best” is in no way an attempt to be an objective statement. The terminology is shorthand to reflect personal taste and is not to be construed as anything more. Also, for the purposes of a more personal summary in this year-end coverage period, this site’s regular restriction on first person will be lifted. In 2014, I listened to more music that was released throughout the year than any other in my life. Numbering well upwards of a thousand releases, it proved impossible to keep tracks on everything (I’m already certain a few of these lists are missing more than a few titles that I genuinely loved)- but there were a few items that were worth remembering. Below are 14 records that managed to carve their way into my esteem both instantaneously and through the process of time. Below that is what turned into the most extensive list I’ve ever assembled, one that acts as an unnecessary validation that good music is being created at an excessively high volume (all of which is hyperlinked to either a full stream or a representative portion). We’re living in a golden age for access and music continues to reap the benefits allowed by technology.  In that spirit, it’s worth noting that a lot of the names included below won’t always be the most recognizable- this is due to both that volume and the fact this site’s built on a foundation that ensures bands who are marginalized will be given the consideration they deserve. So, with all of that noted, it’s time to move on to the main attraction: 14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014.

14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée

2014’s most unexpected gem, Les Abords Du Lycée, is a mesmerizing listening that drives home taut organ/drums/vocals post-punk with a startling amount of verve. Endlessly charismatic and unpredictable, the dozen tracks on display here constantly twist and turn, never once daring to let the listener catch their breath. Mood and tempo changes abound on one of 2014’s most fearlessly unique records. Even for those who aren’t even remotely well-versed in the French language, Les Abords Du Lycée should be a thrilling listen; something like unbridled passion can always translate well enough to near the universal.

13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House

What’s easily one of 2014’s boldest concepts roots La Dispute’s mesmerizing Rooms of the House, a record that shows La Dispute’s rapid maturation with a weary grace. Centered around a meticulously brilliant narrative device, it’s a record that stunned me on my first few listens before growing into an inescapable force of nature that refused to leave my thoughts. As bleak as anything the post-hardcore has ever produced, Rooms of the House finds its strength through focus and restraint, zeroing in on difficult topics with a keen eye and an abundance of determination. Blisteringly personal and nearly voyeuristic, it stands as one of 2014’s fiercest artistic statements.

12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood

Two Inch Astronaut’s Foulbrood has come up more than a few times on the site over the past handful of months thanks to its casual brilliance. Wielding an enticing palette of influences ranging from Drive Like Jehu to their contemporaries in Exploding in Sound, Two Inch Astronaut managed to conjure up one of the most impressive sophomore efforts of the year. The title track, “Part of Your Scene“, and “Dead White Boy” all earned themselves individual write-ups on the basis of their appealingly off-kilter and ragged identity. Foulbrood‘s a record that knows exactly what it wants to be and goes straight for the throat, sending a trail of viscera flying it its wake.

11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

One of the things I kept coming back to throughout the course of music in 2014 was Jayson Gerycz’s drumming on this record. Not just because it’s a staggering individual performance but because there’s an undefinable, inherent quality that exists within that drumming which drives this record to obscene heights. Impossibly, stripped of the drumming, the record succeeds wildly in an acoustic setting and demonstrates Dylan Baldi’s increasing proficiency as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a guitarist. After losing a member in guitarist Joe Boyer, Cloud Nothings somehow managed to transform themselves into an act that was simultaneously heavier and poppier than when they were a quartet. Importantly, this is a record that’s built to last and it’s only grown on me as the year’s progressed (and that trend’s not showing any signs of slowing).

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day

As beguiling as it is bewitching, Ought’s brit-pop influenced post-punk masterpiece was a record that sounded triumphant right out of the gate. Slowly, that triumph turned to transcendence and the songs contained within More Than Any Other Day became unavoidable mission statements. In terms of scope, the majority of More Than Any Other Day feels as epic as LCD Soundsystem operating at their best. Both acts share a penchant for sprawling structures and self-containment, bridging a gap between intimacy and grandeur with a knack for deceptive, intricate songwriting. Anthemic and mundane, More Than Any Other Day was like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, waiting for the resuscitated with a sly grin and a memorable, tossed-off joke. Excessively charming and utterly winsome, it’s a record that felt (and still feels) necessary.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

“E.M.O.”, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club‘s thrilling centerpiece, recently appeared in this site’s best songs of 2014 list- but the song’s only one part of a much larger picture. At once, one of the year’s most joyous and pissed off releases, Jawbreaker Reunion tore through a variety of serious issues with aplomb on their absolutely stunning debut effort. Other than distilling songs like “Laughing Alone Eating a Salad” with a wicked sense of humor, the whole affair’s imbued with an enviably powerful sense of songcraft. Lo-fi, DIY, punk, and teeming with an understanding of classic pop, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s boldest introductions- it was also one of its best.

8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger

PURPLE 7 boasts a lineup that’s accompanied by an impressive pedigree. Members of the band have previously played in bands like Defiance, Ohio, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans (whose self-titled record ranks among my all-time favorites and currently leads my “best of decade” selections). Unsurprisingly, their debut LP effort hits a lot of sweet spots, including a gritty middle point between basement punk and basement pop. Simply put, this is a stunning collection of songs that was overlooked by most to a baffling degree after its release. Grounded, humble, and heartfelt, Jewel Finger is one of the records that reminds me of the reasons I started this site. This is music that deserves to be celebrated.

7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Arguably 2014’s first truly great release, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness saw the songwriter transition from a promising talent into one of the year’s most arresting figures. Embracing a fuller sound and a newfound confidence, Burn Your Fire For No Witness broke Angel Olsen’s career wide open with an onslaught of genuinely haunting tunes. Whether they were relentlessly spare or soaked in noir-ish tendencies, they were uniformly captivating; both the storm and the eerie silence before. Raw, tender, and occasionally antagonistic, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was one thing above all else: unforgettable.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

From the devastating opening lines all the way through to the climactic finish, LOSE holds its ground as one 2014’s most frighteningly personal albums. Largely influenced by the death of a friend close to the band, it’s a meditation on loss and the surrounding aspects of something so tragic. Easily Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest work to date both lyrically and musically, it’s a powerful (and powerfully moving) listen. “Warning”, in particular, cuts deep- which is one of the reasons why it wound up on the best songs of 2014 list just a few days ago. Incredibly impassioned and brave in its sincerity, LOSE finds a level of catharsis in its emotional turbulence, lending it a charge that renders it one of the year’s most human (and most important) releases.

5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love

Perfect Pussy, for better or worse, have become intrinsically linked with this site. From Meredith Graves’ insistence on tangential involvement (which I’ll forever be grateful for) to the fact that the band’s greater ascension matched up with the very start of this site, they’re a band I’ve gone step for step with since bringing Heartbreaking Bravery into existence. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so fiercely drawn to the things that they were doing, though, which is why I approached them in the first place. Ever since those beginnings, it’s been a privilege to watch them progress, to travel at lengths to watch them play, and to see them release a record as enormously powerful as Say Yes To Love, a collection which houses my favorite song of 2014 (and possibly of this decade so far). Unapologetic, personal, damaged, resilient, powerful, feral, oddly triumphant, and unbelievably intense, Say Yes To Love operates as a perfect reminder for all of the reasons why I fell in love with this band- and why I’ll continue to pay close attention to their movements.

4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love

No band in 2014 made a more stunning artistic leap than Iceage, who went from a static blur to matching the swaggering heights of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after discovering their voice. Plowing Into The Field Of Love was a startlingly radical change of pace for Iceage, who imbue the record with a curious restraint and a sense of deeply haunted Americana. Southern Gothic touch points are littered throughout the record’s bleak landscape, while making room for plaintive ornamentation in the form of brass, string, and piano figures. Darker and more self-aware than anything in the band’s career, Plowing Into The Field Of Love earned them quite a few words of praise from this very site. Augmented by some legitimately extraordinary music videos, Plowing Into The Field Of Love proved to be an unexpectedly rattling experience. Easily one of the year’s most divisive records (as is the case with any left turns this sharp), it suggested Iceage’s ambitions ran way deeper than anyone expected and, subsequently, that they had the know-how to see those ambitions to fruition. In chasing their whimsy they wound up with something I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling a masterpiece.

3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek

My connection with Mitski’s music is something that will always hold a very personal resonance. I’ll leave most of the reasoning behind that statement to a forthcoming piece but it’s worth noting in regards to a record that’s so unabashedly self-exploratory. Bury Me At Makeout Creek was an enthralling re-introduction for Mitski, who saw it rightfully skyrocket her name recognition. Top to bottom, it’s an extraordinary effort that re-defined her artistic capabilities after a string of meticulously composed records that leaned on chamber pop tendencies. Here, that past gets blown to bits almost immediately. One of my favorite experiences in music listening all year came when “Texas Reznikoff” explodes in its final section- another came while listening to one of the best songs I’ve heard this decade (for obvious reasons, considering that statement). Where Bury Me At Makeout Creek manages to approach the transcendental is in the process of allowing listeners to hear an artist coming into their own. Part of Mitski’s identity is laid bare by Bury Me At Makeout Creek: it’s the unwillingness to accept identity as a static object and the desire to question its cumulative elements. That search is what gives Bury Me At Makeout Creek its bruised heart- and it’s why musicians will use it as a source of inspiration for several years to come.

2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song

After the exhilarating highs of Something Wild, Radiator Hospital had a tall order for their follow-up. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), they obliterated those towering expectations with Torch Song. Sounding more confident- and more polished- than ever before, Torch Song cemented Sam Cook-Parrott’s status as one of this generation’s keenest emerging voices. Paying attention to the minutiae of everyday experiences and injecting them with a self-deprecating sense of poetry laced with pessimism, the songs contained on this record all aim to cut and find their mark with an incredible amount of ease. Having already established themselves as one of today’s more formidable units musically, Torch Song has the added benefit of having four loaded personalities find each other in total harmony, each acting as a complement to the other. Personal diatribes, small journeys of self-discovery, and a sense of empathy inform Torch Song and help cultivate its unassuming charm. There’s not a weak track among the record’s 15 songs and it maintains an assured sense of pace throughout its relatively breezy runtime. By the time it draws to a close, it stands as one of the most fully-formed and rewarding records of recent memory.

1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d

I don’t think any record resonated more for me throughout the course of 2014 than LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, which I revered with literally no reservations. 2014’s strongest sophomore effort, Hoodwink’d saw LVL UP expanding most of the elements that made Space Brothers such an incredible release and retained all the others. Unreasonably refined and exceedingly personable, LVL UP have always found a strength in accentuating their members’ unique personalities and that trend got pushed to the forefront for their second full-length (which was co-released by Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound). Utilizing a distinctly unique take on their 90’s influences, the band also reveled in the benefits of a cleaner production that allowed them to sound more massive than they ever have in the past. No release felt more timely than Hoodwink’d, either, with the record practically serving as a stand-in voice for a disenfranchised sect of people. Alternately crushingly heavy, viciously poppy, relentlessly personal, and completely worn-out, Hoodwink’d never loses sight of its own mechanics. There’s a level of mutual understanding on display here that separates it from the rest of the year’s releases. Everyone feeds off each other, everyone supports each other, and everyone contributes to one hell of a set without even coming close to overstaying their welcome. Conversely, Hoodwink’d also ranks as one of the year’s most welcoming releases, radiating an empathetic warmth in its tone (and in its tones). As an entry in LVL UP’s catalog, it’s their career best. As a general 2014 release, it’s the best thing I had the privilege of hearing all year.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the titles below without an accompanying link can be streamed in the order they’re listed via the embedded spotifly player below the list.]

Albums from 2014 that deserve to be heard:  Mean Creek – Local Losers | Happyness – Weird Little Birthday | Dark Blue – Pure Reality | Band Practice – Make Nice | Little Big League – Tropical Jinx | Happy Diving – Big World | Tweens – Tweens | Big Ups – Eighteen Hours of Static | Geronimo! – Cheap Trick | Greys – If Anything | Alvvays – Alvvays | White Lung – Deep Fantasy | Caddywhompus – Feathering A Nest | Left & Right – Five Year Plan | Ty Segall – Manipulator | Brain F/ – Empty Set | We Need Secrets – Melancholy and the Archive | Makthaverskan – II | Playlounge – Pilot | Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath | MOURN – MOURN | Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 | The History of Apple Pie – Feel Something | Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! | Trace Mountains – Buttery Sprouts | Dead Stars – Slumber | Fear of Men – Loom | PAWS – Youth Culture Forever | Swans – To Be Kind | The Yolks – King of Awesome | Crabapple – Is It You? | The Coasts – Racilia | Purling Hiss – Weirdon | Reigning Sound – Shattered | Creepoid – Creepoid | Saintseneca – Dark Arc | Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert | Fucked Up – Glass Boys | Music Band – Can I Live | Glish – Glish | Liam Betson – The Cover of Hunter | Frankie CosmosZentropy, Donutes, Affirms Glinting | Girl Tears – Tension | Martha – Courting Strong | Hurry – Everything/Nothing | The Spirit of the Beehive – The Spirit of the Beehive | Protomartyr – Under Official Color of Right | The Gary – Farewell Foolish Objects | Spit – Getting Low | Nothing – Guilty of Everything | Sharpless – The One I Wanted To Be | Legendary Wings – Do You See | Therapy? – Act of Contrition | Chris Weisman – Monet in the 90’s | Mumblr – Full of Snakes | Cayetana – Nervous Like Me | Free Cake for Every Creature – “pretty good” | Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Party Jail | S – Cool Choices | Allo Darlin’ – We Come From The Same Place | Sneeze – Wilt | Quarterbacks – Quarterboy | The Twilight Sad – No One Wants To Be Here And No One Wants To Leave | Filmstrip – Moments of Matter | Bleeding Rainbow – Interrupt | La Sera – Hour of the Dawn | Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica | Gold-Bears – Dalliance | Sharon Van Etten – Are We There | Nude Beach – ’77 | A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos | The Gotobeds – Poor People Are Revolting | Nots – We Are Nots | Alex G – DSU | Lower – Seek Warmer Climes | Young Widows – Easy Pain | CreaturoS – Popsicle | Mr. Gnome – The Heart Of A Dark Star | Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal | Ex Hex – Rips | Trust Punks – Discipline | Failures’ Union – Tethering | Odonis Odonis – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled | Beverly – Careers | The Number Ones – The Number Ones | Tigers Jaw – Charmer | Tiger High – Inside The Acid Coven | Straight Arrows – Rising | Dead Soft – Dead Soft | The Lemons – Hello, We’re The Lemons | Baked – Debt | MAZES – Wooden AquariumSleepyhead – Wild Sometimes | Native America – Grown Up Wrong | The Wans – He Said, She Said | Trophy Wife – All the Sides | Doe – First Four | Lushes – What Am I Doing | Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting | Haley Bonar – Last War | The Casket Girls – True Love Kills The Fairy Tale | Slothrust – Of Course You Do | Sorority Noise – Forgettable | Team Spirit – Killing Time | Feral Trash – Trashfiction | Blank Pages – Blank Pages | Mr. Dream – Ultimate In Luxury | Carsick Cars – 3 | SUNN O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials | This Will Destroy You – Another Language | Vanna Inget – Ingen Botten | The Real Energy – Beyond Delay | Muuy Bien – DYI | Young Ladies – We Get By | Eureka California – Crunch | Negative Scanner – Negative Scanner | Violent Change – A Celebration Of Taste | Black Wine – Yell BossImpo & The Tents – Peek After A Poke | Tomorrows Tulips – When | Mountain Bike – Mountain Bike | The Lees of Memory – Sisyphus Says | Telepathic Lines – Telepathic Lines | The Shivas – You Know What To Do | Allah-Las – Worship the Sun | Das Rad – Radiation | The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt | Crow Bait – Sliding Through The Halls Of Fate | together PANGEA – Badillac | Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita | PUJOL – Kludge | FF – Lord | Aj Davila Y Terror Amor – Beibi | Emilyn Brodsky – Emilyn Brodsky Eats Her Feelings | Young Statues – Flatlands Are Your Friend | Cancers – Fatten the Leeches | Sam Coffey + The Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell | Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas | The Ar-Kaics – The Ar-Kaics | Beach Day – Native Echoes | Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers | Dude York – Dehumanize | Gino & The Goons – Shake It! | Kevin Morby – Still Life | Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin | Wyatt Blair – Banana Cream Dream | Queen Jesus – Darkness Yea, Yea | Joel Jerome – Psychedelic Thrift Store Folk | Espectrostatic – Escape From WitchtropolisCheap Girls – Famous Graves | Davila 666 – Pocos Anos, Muchos Danos | Parts & Labor – Receivers | Nick Thorburn – Music From SERIAL | DTCVHilarious Heaven, The Early Year | Bellows – Blue Breath | Teenager – E P L P | Spider Bags – Frozen Letter | The Paperhead – Africa Avenue | Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea | The Jazz June – After The Earthquake | Michael Sincavage – Empty Apartments (Supporting Actors) | Restorations – LP3 | MONO – The Last Dawn, Rays of Darkness | Matthew Melton – Outside of Paradise | The Vaselines – V For Vaselines | Total Control – Typical System | The Velveteens – Sun’s Up | Step-Panther – Strange But NiceExit Verse – Exit Verse | Slippertails – There’s A Disturbing Trend | Globelamp – Star Dust | Champ – Champ | Le Rug – Swelling (My Own Worst Anime) | VLMA – VLMA | Turn To Crime – Can’t Love | ScotDrakula – ScotDrakula | Warehouse – Tesseract | Muhammadali – Future Songs | Unwelcome Guests – Wavering | Baby Ghosts – Maybe Ghosts | White Mystery – Dubble Dragon | Constant Lovers – Experience Feelings | Future Islands – Singles | Maica Mia – Des Era | Tacocat – NVM | Popstrangers – Fortuna | Curtis Harding – Soul Power | New Swears – Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever | The Miami Dolphins – Becky | Thee Oh Sees – Drop | Fasano – The Factory LP | Dum Dum Girls – Too True | Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos | Metronomy – Love Letters | Great Cynics – Like I Belong | Neighborhood Brats – Recovery | Connections – Into Sixes | Three Man Cannon – Pretty Many People | Grouper – Ruins | YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend | Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything | Apollo Brown – Thirty Eight | Hookworms – The Hum | Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down | Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean | What Moon Things – What Moon Things | Guided By VoicesMotivational Jumpsuit, Cool Planet | Gem Club – In Roses | Saturday’s Kids – The Lunatic | King of Cats – Working Out | Shopping – Tvff Noogies | The Love Triangle – Clever Clever | Nightmare Boyzzz – Bad Patterns | Future Virgins – Late Republic | Parasol – Not There | Lenguas Largas – Come On In | Cocktails – Adult Life | Generation Loss – Generation Loss | Feral Future – Haematic | Posse – Soft Opening | Diners – Always Room | Mimicking Birds – EONS | The Freezing Hands – Coma Cave ’13 | Amanda X – Amnesia | Predator – The Complete EarthWatery Love – Decorative Feeding | The Estranged – The Estranged | Steve Adamyk Band – Dial Tone | The Cry! – Dangerous Game | Ruined Fortune – Ruined Fortune | Good Throb – Fuck Off | The Elsinores – Dreams of Youth | The Bugs – The Right Time | Vacation Club – Heaven Is Too High | Freinds of Cesar Romero – Cinco Seis | Leather – Easy | Los Pepes – Los Pepes For Everyone | Juanita Y Los Felos – Nueva Numancia | Dan Webb and the SpidersEine Kleine Akustichmusik, Now It Can Be Told | Bozo Moto – BozoMoto | Low Life – Dogging | Moth – First Second | Rhythm of Cruelty – Dysphoria | Siamese Twins – Still Corner | Departure Kids – On The Go | Blessed State – Head Space | Flagland – Love Hard | Manateees – Sit N Spin | White Ass – White Ass | Ausmuteants – Order Of Operation | The Gutters – Eventually | Hysterese – Hysterese | The Ricky C Quartet – Recent Affairs | Hoax Hunters – Comfort & Safety | Arctic Flowers – Weaver

Space Mountain – California Blue (Stream)

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Yes, Space Mountain sounds an awful lot like Trace Mountains– and not just in name. Make no mistake, though, while Dave Benton (also of LVL UP) and Cole Kinsler do share similar voices, similar solo project names, similar aesthetics, and similar deliveries- Space Mountain is still very much Kinsler’s own project. There’s a very strong identity that infuses both “California Blue” and “Love Song“, the two tracks Kinsler’s using to tease the forthcoming Wilderness Explorer. All things considered, the Space Mountain project may actually be veering closer towards Spit‘s incredible Getting Low. “California Blue” toys with a lot of different kinds of damage; personal, aesthetic, and structural being chief examples. It’s effortlessly compelling and carves out a place as an artist to watch for Space Mountain with genuine ease. Enchantingly layered and utterly heartfelt, this is the kind of lo-fi, left-of-center bedroom music well worth anyone’s devotion.

Listen to “California Blue” below and pre-order Wilderness Explorer from Space Mountain’s bandcamp.

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.