(Double Double Whammy, 2013)
I had a real hard time choosing which LVL UP release to write about, but I ended up settling on Extra Worlds simply because it’s the band’s most recent release. Although I’ve had their inimitable 2011 release Space Brothers on repeat for a while now … No, Extra Worlds it is.
I came to LVL UP in a roundabout way – they’ve shared the stage with Exploding in Sound–released artists, and I figured I’d check them out. EIS has been pretty much knocking it out of the park with their stable of bands paying souped-up homage to indie rock titans of the late 1980s and 1990s. I figured if LVL UP fit that description, I’d be in good shape as a listener.
Guess what? I was. They’re pretty much my favorite new band (for me) that I’m listening to right now. Which is weird, because it takes a lot for a guitar-rock four-piece (“Mike, Dave, Greg ………NICK”) to do anything for me – just look at my recent review history, and you won’t see too many of these types of bands. But when a band is as super catchy and super fun as LVL UP is, you have to pay attention. They’re not jokey fun (you know you’re thinking that there were some Pavement and Guided By Voices clunkers out there, I know it, we can admit it now) – they’re energetic and brief, and each song is crammed with enough ideas that LVL UP can spew them all out and be done with it without much repetition.
In fact, some would say (OK, I would say) that they’ve perfected the recipe for indie rock these days. Don’t go, hear me out! LVL UP certainly have good record collections, a healthy enthusiasm, and songwriting chops. They’ve incorporated equal parts Built to Spill, Superchunk, and Pavement – but that’s half the recipe. The aesthetics recall There’s Nothing Wrong with Love – but with a lyrical maturity of Keep It Like a Secret. In fact, lead track “Consistent” lasts all of 59 seconds and ends with a holler befitting a young Doug Martsch. It’s a heck of a mission statement, and had it landed on any of their earlier material, I would’ve said the same thing. (Although I’m a huge sucker for the equally short and awesome “Roman Candle,” the lead track from Space Brothers.)
The rest? Take Superchunk’s pogo-tastic energy and strip Mac’s self-pity, or Pavement’s laid-back charm and ability to situate themselves on any stylistic rung of the indie rock ladder, but without the nasty term “slack” that always followed them around. (For a really good example of the latter, see, again, Space Brothers’ opening two-minute, two-track salvo “Roman Candle” and “Alabama West.”) But my favorite moments on Extra Worlds just remind me that indie rock can be enjoyed at any level, at any time. Built to Spill’s “Joyride” meets “Reasons” (again! Sorry…) on “Trial One,” where jangly rock and slowed-down herky-jerky crunch straddle three minutes almost precisely. It’s really like two songs in one, but it fits perfectly together at the halfway point. And I think I heard “Graveyard” on No Pocky for Kitty, but I could be mistaken. I’m totally mistaken. It’s just as good though.
But that exuberant shout at the beginning of “Consistent” reminds me to put aside the comparisons and just live in the moment – these instances don’t happen in indie rock songs much anymore, which is why they really don’t do it for me these days. But this one does. And there’s no pretense, no self-importance in any moment with LVL UP, just an excitement to get to the next part of the song, or indeed the next song. If I were LVL UP, I’d enjoy my songs just as much as they seem to – they seem really happy to just be a band and play music. Case in point – they’re also really generous with their b-sides and demos, so have fun poking around on that bandcamp site!
RIYL: Built to Spill, Superchunk, Pavement, Times New Viking, Joe Christmas