Heartbreaking Bravery

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PUP – PUP (Album Review)

PUP cover art

Toronto punk upstarts PUP have been building buzz steadily over the past year and they finally seem set to explode with the release of their self-titled debut. Prior to being PUP, the band had been playing out and releasing music under the name Topanga, so named after the character in Boy Meets World. After Disney acquired the rights to that particular show and planned a revamp, the band put the name to rest and became PUP. The re-branding seems to have ignited a fire in them that’s shown no signs of coming close to being put out.

After receiving coverage from nearly every major independent-music publication, continuing to make all the right connections, and releasing the year’s best music video, PUP has finally arrived (albeit currently only in their native Canada). PUP, like METZ before it, continues a trend in fiercely aggressive Canadian noise-punk imports. Unlike METZ, however, the band reigns things in every now and again throughout the record’s ten tracks, displaying enviable songwriting prowess and an unexpected vulnerability. That vulnerability is part of what makes tracks like “Yukon” so memorable; they’re distinguishable moments that add up to a substantial whole.

PUP‘s staunch refusal to present a collection of tracks that bleed into each other is admirable and helps the band stand out from many of their counterparts. This refusal allows them to put an emphasis on their lyricism, which is another one of the band’s more unique traits. Even with all the standard “Oh-oh-oh” sections peppered throughout PUP, the band manages to deliver memorable couplets like “and when my eyes were closed/you left me miserable… in the morning” before the explosive chorus on “Cul-de-sac” and the almost threatening “I guess you live and you learn/I guess you’ll get what you deserve” on “Reservoir”,  as well as entire songs of memorable and intelligent lines (“Dark Days” is particularly strong).

While PUP is undoubtedly formidable when the band’s gang mentality is on full display, it’s at its best when it flies off the rails and is spearheaded by a single personality. “Reservoir”, the lead-off single and album highlight, is the strongest example of this. There’s a ferocious and manic energy driving that song throughout its verse sections that make the brief group vocals on the explosive chorus even more resonant and effective. PUP’s untapped a rare kind of magic with that formula and they utilize it smartly throughout the record, accelerating and easing off at will to create a frenzied and somewhat chaotic pace that suits PUP perfectly.

“Factories” brings the record to an effective close, providing a sense of completion while also being energetic enough to leave listeners anxiously waiting for more. PUP is one hell of a first entry in what looks to be a promising career. Despite not currently being available in the US, you can stream the whole thing over at the band’s bandcamp. For those looking for a briefer introduction to the band and their aesthetic, the video for “Reservoir” is posted below and, as hinted at earlier, it’s fucking incredible. Keep an eye out for a US release sometime soon and make sure to check out the band when they swing through Chicago on 11/25 to play the Empty Bottle with Heartbreaking Bravery favorites Audacity and Hunters.

Albert Hammond Jr. – Carnal Cruise (Music Video)

Albert Hammond Jr. has continuously proven that he’s so much more than just a member of The Strokes. He’s quietly put together a solo discography that’s more consistent than his main vehicle’s and, frankly, one that’s more interesting.  Hammond extends this unlikely winning streak with AHJ, an EP that’s out now through Cult Records. Earlier today Complex premiered a colorful smoke-filled music video for EP standout “Carnal Cruise”.  The impossibly charming Laurent Briet-directed video’s general conceit is inspired and simplistic, featuring only Hammond mugging his way through a forest aided by a minimal use of image-bending special effects. Keep an eye out for the percussion breakdown at around 2:35. It’s magical.

You can watch it here.

Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Album Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can stream Surfing Strange here.

Audacity – Hole in the Sky (Music Video)

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Fullerton, CA band Audacity has been cranking out gloriously enthusiastic garage pop for roughly 10 years. This week they put out their latest, Butter Knife, on both Burger Records and Suicide Squeeze. In addition to releasing Butter Knife the band also released a music video for standout track “Hole in the Sky”, which boasts several of the band’s signature musical staples along with a vintage visual palette. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, let this be your introduction to four young men who appear poised to be Superchunk’s natural anthemic successors.


You can catch Audacity live when they play The Empty Bottle in Chicago on 11/25 with fellow hell-raisers PUP and Hunters.