(Double Double Whammy, 2014)
It’s the doldrums, man. It really is. I can’t think of a better word to describe the cold, gray recesses of January, after the holidays are over and the hangovers are gone and the stark, depressing reality of another gloomy year hovers over everything. It won’t be spring for months. I don’t care about the new year or anything – give me the comfort of the known, and I know 2014. I don’t know this 2015, and I don’t owe it anything. So guess what? I’m gonna curl up with one of my favorite records from 2014 and shrug off any record that comes out after December 31. Take that, music criticism! It’s just me, and LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, and my tears.
No, wait, I’m not crying – I’m laughing! And cheering! And embracing life after New Year’s Day! Hallelujah, I’m a new person! And I owe it all to LVL UP, those cheeky scalliwags from Purchase (now Brooklyn, of course), New York. Because what better way, really, to start off a brand new year than with the greatest reminder that you’re A-OK, that everything you’ve done up to this point hasn’t been for nothing, and that the decisions you’ve made in your life actually have made you a better person. That’s how I feel right now. Hoodwink’d takes me right back to a time when the future was super rosy: I was in college, amassing the beginning of a killer record collection heavy on 1990s indie rock, playing in an indie rock band who relied on their collective killer record collections for inspiration, and so on. Listening to LVL UP makes me feel like I’ve died and gone to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – and as awful as that sounds, it’s not awful.
I think it’s the playful scalliwaggery I’ve already alluded to that defines LVL UP – they’re not too serious, but there’s definitely a level of Weezer-esque emotion bubbling to the surface. (And I mean Blue Album–era Weezer – don’t even start me on the new stuff.) It’s a mindset that says, “We’re disillusioned! But dang it, we’re having fun!” I’ve lived that. I connect with it here because of that. I’ve made that music, and I love being a part of it again as a listener. There is an enormous subset of likeminded indie snobs – and not even snobs, just people who like stuff, and get it – whose embrace of rock bands like LVL UP has given rise to labels like Exploding in Sound and LVL UP’s own Double Double Whammy who are cycling through really great talent on the way to larger stages and levels of exposure.
And these bands – well, let’s stick with LVL UP and Hoodwink’d in particular, they’re really accessible – there’s just so much for everybody. Each song feels like a personal exclamation of endearment to the listener. The power fuzz of opener “Angel from Space” is like a big fat hug, and it just gets better from there. “Stoned Alone” is like a big fat hug. “Annie’s a Witch” is like a big fat hug. In fact, without trying to sound like something integral has cracked in my brain, I think LVL UP loves me. Really. And I love them back. I mean, c’mon! They even talk about me in “Soft Power”: “My friend Ryan offered good advice” – I’m Ryan! (Well, that’s my name anyway.)
I kid, somewhat, but all these tunes are right in 22-year-old me’s wheelhouse. There’s a distinct “Summer Babe”-edness of “Hex” that reminds me that Pavement is the bestest, and that one band of mine actually covered “Summer Babe.” And when the Silver Jews are name-checked in “I Feel Extra-Natural” (which also features a Modest Mouse-referencing chorus), I want to go on and on about my fascination with Dave Berman’s lyrics. It’s amazing, too, that LVL UP actually remind me of LVL UP, distinctively, and not with any other referent: “If I Leave”’s squirrelly acoustic rambunctiousness reminds me of some of my favorite LVL UP tunes, like “Consistent” (Extra Worlds) and “Roman Candle” (Space Brothers). Well, the acoustic versions of those songs they released anyway. And just to put the finest possible point on it, “I Feel OK” has a beachy Cure vibe and “Ski Vacation” owes its guitars to the Smiths, thereby solidifying my notion that these boys have the exact same record collection as me.
With records like LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d bursting through my earbuds, it’s impossible to wear the mask of perennial grump, at any time of the year. I’m stoked that records like this still sound relevant, that bands like LVL UP are still arriving at fresh destinations while utilizing the tropes of the genres they grew up with. And I’m glad to be along for the ride – these guys were my friends in college, and my bandmates too, and I’m a big ol’ lump of nostalgia for those groovy times when I listen to them.
RIYL: Pavement, Superchunk, Sebadoh, Weezer ca. Blue Album