LVL UP - SPACE BROTHERS (2011)
LVL UP is a young band that comprises five young students of the musically rich SUNY Purchase in New York. Their debut LP SPACE BROTHERS came out in October of last year, but I unfortunately slept on it, despite the accolades of such tastemakers as The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s Greg Horbal and a representative of the band who contacted me via email himself. I guess I fucked up, because this band is awesome. I’ve been listening to SPACE BROTHERS pretty consistently throughout the past month, and I have not grown tired of it one bit.
Playability is this record’s number one asset; it never gets boring to listen to because it never really feels complete. It’s got thirteen tracks on it, but it only clocks in at 23 minutes. The songs themselves range in length from an un-scrobbleable 28 seconds to over 3 and a half minutes, and with a mean track length a little over the 1 minute mark. Somehow with each track, the band manages to provide a cathartic listening experience while constantly leaving the listener wanting more. Furthermore, although coherence is often seen as a necessary attribute of a successful album, SPACE BROTHERS succeeds precisely because of how disconnected it is. Like some sort of musical race car, LVL UP pulls off breakneck stylistic turns all throughout this record, trying out straightforward guitar rock reminiscent of early Strokes on tracks like “Roman Candle” one moment, and slogging through the lonesome alt-country of “Alabama West” the next, before hurtling headlong into the pop-punk inspired 28 seconds of “Black Mass.” This punkish influence pops up again on the inspirational “Apocalyptophobia,” but is effectively done away with by the subsequent “Bro Chillers,” a reverb-laden track that calls to mind the psychedelic surf rock revival of recent years. No matter the style that the LVL UP boys employ, the results are endlessly catchy and immediately appealing; even the slow, acoustic, penultimate track “Walking Home” will have you humming along.
If I were to categorize the overall aesthetic of SPACE BROTHERS in general terms, I would call it a nostalgic record that still feels forward-thinking. This whole thing is one big paradox isn’t it? It’s clear that these guys all grew up in the 90s, and from what I can tell, they’ve certainly worn their way through a few old Pavement and Modest Mouse LPs; however, although that influence certainly pervades their music, it doesn’t lessen the quality of it. Nostalgic descriptions of “high school parking lots” (from “Roman Candle”) and “floorboards in grandmother’s kitchenette” (“Rotten Ones”) do evoke simpler, easier times, but it’s clear that the members of LVL UP don’t wish to wallow in the past. Similarly, although the generally lo-fi atmosphere and low-mixed vocals suggest some sort of slacker attitude, there’s simply too much energy welled up in SPACE BROTHERS to give it such a reductive epithet. As singer Dave Benton says on the unpronounceable but still fantastic standout track “*_*,” “I gave up long ago.”
I don’t believe him; if he had truly given up, that song and this record as a whole wouldn’t be nearly as good. But then again, if he weren’t telling the truth, SPACE BROTHERS would be a dishonest record. Just another paradox.
The moral of this review? Don’t think too hard. In the time I took to write these words, I could have listened SPACE BROTHERS four times. I think I’ll go do that now.
LVL UP’s SPACE BROTHERS is available for free download on their bandcamp page HERE. Check out their facebook page for information about upcoming releases and shows. Apparently they’re scheduled to play a show at SUNY Purchase soon, at which they will perform SPACE BROTHERS in its entirety.