Rapid Fire Reviews: LVL Up, Bellows, Coupons

Posted: by Eli


LVL Up- Return To Love

On Return To Love, LVL Up show that they’ve aged out of the short, sweet, relatively simple lo-fi indie-pop of their previous records (particularly 2014’s Hoodwink’d) and are ready to explore more advanced sonic ground. The most noticeable differences are the tones and the pace of this record. Each song is driven by a thick, grungy bassline that’s stirred in with washes of distorted guitars, and peppered with subtle, melodious synths. Whereas Hoodwink’d excelled at immediate catchiness, Return To Love makes you work a little harder and listen a little longer to get to the climax of each song­, which is always well worth the effort.

Tracks such as “Pain,” “Five Men on the Ridge,” and “The Closing Door” build steadily before breaking out into stunningly savory instrumental sections. “The Closing Door” feels like a hot air balloon ride, floating upwards until it reaches its peak height, and hovering to let you gaze upon a gorgeous landscape. “Pain” offers an ominous verse before bursting into a massive, driving breakdown with a cutting guitar lead. “Five Men on the Ridge” has a quickly crescendoing entrance that swells before popping into an airy, inexplicably comforting bassline that’s accompanied by a soft, blinking synth.

It’s a combination of the muddy, yet punchy mixes, seamless transitions, and cryptic, supernatural lyrical topics that give this record a peculiar aura. It’s got a certain energy about it that really captures the brisk, autumn temperatures and eerie scenery of its release season. This is why the album’s haunting, seven-minute finale, “Naked in the River with the Creator,” that ventures into dark psychedelia and verges on doom metal, has a logical place in the tracklist. Return To Love is ambitious, but it never sounds as if LVL Up are in over their heads.



Bellows- Fist & Palm

On Fist & Palm, Bellows takes a series of sonic leaps and almost always lands on his feet. The intro track “You Are A Palm Tree” jolts to a start with folk-rock harmonies and guitarwork that reminisce the genre’s forefathers Simon & Garfunkel, but in a manner that’s outfitted for 2016. As the track progresses it picks up some glitchy synths and auto-tuned vocals, cracks into a gigantic, chorale-laden proclamation of the line, “Cause you are a palm tree, like me, not quite shady,” and then finally concludes with a series of chaotic, crashing drums that coalesce with the electro backbeat. It’s a dramatic entrance, and it serves as an excellent introduction for what’s to come: a theatrical, sonic narration of the demise of a close friendship.

From there, the record bounces between genres with songs like the near-club banger “Orange Juice,” the more straightforward, guitar-based “A Sordid Ending,” the shamelessly melodramatic and poppy “Thick Skin”- the chorus of which goes, “I’ve grown so thick-skinned lately, but I wanna cry,”- and even the tender, self-critical “Bully.” Aside from the delicate “Bummer Swells,” each song has at least one moment that’s genuinely epic, though the record climaxes during the aptly-titled “Beauty.” It’s got one of the best hooks on the album, which is shared by both the vocals and the guitar lead before a swath of strings swoops it up, drags it through a manic techno bridge, and then collides with a grandiose percussion arrangement.

Bellows has said in interviews that this record took a long time to create, and it sounds that way. It’s carefully layered and detailed, and for something coming out of the historically lo-fi, bedroom-pop collective The Epoch, this is a triumphant departure.



Coupons- Number One Hit Album

It’s hard to describe the Albany quartet’s debut to someone, because frankly, it just sounds like rock music. Obviously that could literally mean hundreds of different things depending on who you ask, but when listening through Number One Hit Album, it doesn’t seem fair to place it in any one sub-genre.

It’s got the nasally vocals of 90s indie rock (Built To Spill, Pavement) but they’ve got a bit more flair to them and aren’t as rough around the edges because their vocalist can actually sing. Many of these songs move at a ballad pace and appear to be influenced by classic songwriters such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Coupons know how to put a match to a song and then patiently feed the flames, rather than setting it all ablaze at once. This is a skill that can only be learned over time, but the band impressively honed that craft going into their first release.

Tracks such as “Sirens” and “Cars” progress naturally and use dynamics throughout to indicate that an explosion is impending- which there is. Hardy gang vocals, shreddy guitar solos, acute drum fills, and stylish keys all make tasteful appearances throughout the record, but no single instrument or voice ever feels unnecessary or repetitive. Even an outlier track like “Honestly” that sounds like something off of Tame Impala’s electro-heavy Currents, feels welcome on the record. The dancy first half is a bit odd coming right after the soulful “Birthdays,” but by the end the band is belting the catchiest line on the record, “All my friends are all I need,” over rolling drums and bashing into a huge, crunchy guitar riff.

It’s got unassuming cover art and a goofy title, but Number One Hit Album is a fine nugget of Bandcamp gold that’s instantly likeable and effortlessly nuanced.


— Eli Enis