LVL UP (Final Tour)
Yowler, Mannequin Pussy
1940 9th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
“Hidden Driver,” the opening track of LVL UP’s third album and Sub Pop debut Return to Love, never stops moving. What starts with unassuming guitars and vocals adds new lines, depths, and intensity, until its unrestrained, triumphant finish. “God is peeking, softly speaking,” repeats the chorus, working through the relationship between spirituality and creative inspiration, and introducing a band that is always pushing further.
LVL UP -- guitarists Mike Caridi and Dave Benton, bassist Nick Corbo, and drummer Greg Rutkin -- is a true collaboration, a band that takes the stylistically distinct ideas of four members and brings them together into something new. Caridi, Benton, and Corbo write and sing equally, bringing their work to the group to be fully realized, resulting in an album built on different perspectives but a common drive.
“We have very different inspirations across the board,” says Benton, noting his own admiration for the writer and documentarian Astra Taylor, Corbo’s interest in the mystical and the occult, and Caridi’s attention to personal storytelling. The music itself grows from a shared melodic and experimental sensibility, as well as a nod to iconic influences like Neutral Milk Hotel and Mount Eerie. But each songwriter has a different vision every step of the way, and there isn’t always alignment--it shouldn’t make sense, but in the end it does.
LVL UP was formed in 2011 at SUNY Purchase as a recording project between Caridi, Benton, and their friend Ben Smith, with the original intention of releasing a split cassette with Corbo’s then-solo material. They instead released that album, Space Brothers, as one band, and Rutkin joined shortly afterwards for the group’s first show. Smith left the band for personal reasons just before the release of second album Hoodwink’d, a joint release on Caridi and Benton’s label Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound. DDW also put out records from other artists in the tight-knit community that launched the band.
“There's not really a town associated with the school, so there's no bar or club that you could go play in easily,” says Corbo. “But there was a student center on campus that was all student run. That was a great place to play, and also take care of a lot of practical issues like a place to put your stuff and a place to practice weekly. It was almost like an incubator situation for us and a lot of other bands -- it gave us a little bit of experience and confidence, so it wasn’t as scary when we decided to go on tour for the first time.”
Also part of that university community was Return to Love’s producer Mike Ditrio, who mixed LVL UP’s previous records and “was basically a fifth member of the band,” says Corbo. “He played a huge role in developing the sound, without butting in too much. He also navigated our personal dynamic really nicely.”
That sound is marked by reverb, harmony and tape distortion, with a keen balance of pop and experimentation. From the fast yet flowing lines of “Blur” to the all-consuming wall of guitar in “The Closing Door,” each song pushes and pulls in compelling, unexpected ways. There’s deliberation as well as spontaneity -- the latter developed with the help of a song-a-day project, which pushed Caridi and Corbo to write and record full songs in a single day. Some of that material, including “Naked in the River with the Creator,” made it onto the album.
“I ultimately made this half-drone, half-really loud guitar song, because it was an idea I had floating around in my head but never got around to doing until I had to write a song in a day,” says Corbo. “The thing that pulled me through was grasping onto words and images, but instead of pulling from an infinite sea of all the images that you could pull from, it's easier to constrict yourself a little bit.”
Yowler is centered around the songwriting of Maryn Jones, who comes from many places but currently lives in Columbus, Ohio. While spending most of her time fronting the energetic and pop-driven rock outfit All Dogs and touring as a multi-instrumentalist in the indie/psych-folk collective Saintseneca, Jones uses Yowler as an outlet to write and record songs from home in the quieter, more solitary parts of the year. Her debut effort, The Offer, was released in March of 2015 on Brooklyn-based label Double Double Whammy. On The Offer, Jones uses distant sounding guitars, heavily effected synths, and bell-like vocals layered with wispy harmonies to paint a picture of a vast somberness and self-reflection. The song are below-the-surface ruminations about the things we don't always know how to talk about to each other.
Mannequin Pussy began as a duo between childhood best friends Dabice and guitarist Thanasi Paul. The pair wrote together, eventually feeling pressure to record a collection of songs. They did, and the bulk of Dabice’s first ever original material became their debut release, G.P. The demos showed immediate promise: Dabice’s idiosyncratic guitar playing of someone rediscovering their musical edge andPaul’s instrumental mobility. G.P.is a hopeful sort of scrappy experiment—but one that wouldn’t fully realize Mannequin Pussy until the duo met their creative collaborators in bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford and drummer Kaleen Reading. Now a quartet, the band’s sophomore LP, Romantic, embodies Mannequin Pussy’s greatness: 20-minutes of hungry, genre-defying eclecticism that no longer feels like a collection of tracks but a record of real, discernible cohesion. Romantickicks off with its title track, Dabice whisper-singing intimate vignettes of loneliness before exploding into trash-punk realizations—it’s hard to miss the mark when she offers the eyebrow-furrowing scream “I’m in hell.” It proceeds “Emotional High,” the most loving track on the record—a punk-pop anthem that removes itself from the transparent toxicity of some of the album’s other themes, or the progressive politicism of a song like “Pledge,” which offers the listener a new pledge of allegiance, one to themselves and no one else.
At their heart, Mannequin Pussy is a band that mosaics, taking unlike parts and making something new and whole from it’s unique pieces. It’s the direct result an artistic marriage between it’s four members, helmed by Dabice’s no non-sense, vulnerable and strong worldview. “What we hope for when people experience our music is a cathartic release, to not feel so alone in the emotions that most of us have, to maybe see the way other people experience theirs,” she says of the band’s aspirations. “Above all, the hope is that someone can listen to this album, feel connected to it on a personal level and have it set them free from all the toxic feelings that we hold on to.” It’s evident that they will, and do.