LVL UP Return to Love

[Sub Pop; 2016]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: “indie,” “alternative,” “lo-fi”
Others: Krill, Spook Houses, Attic Abasement

Do you believe in God? Are there moments where you aren’t at least a little convinced that the thump in your chest isn’t guided by some cosmic purpose? On their third album and official Sub Pop debut, LVL UP ask about the divine, angelic aspects of their own inspiration, as the guys draw close the spiritual qualities of the transcendent world around them. Now five years into their existence and knee-deep in the shaky tumult of their twenties, the four-piece find themselves falling out of friendships, rolling on through spats of depression, and cobbling together 10 fuzz-drenched tracks that, beneath all else, unite the voices of the four members into the sound and feeling of a cohesive, symbiotic whole.

Passing the mic between bandmates, Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, and Nick Corbo each contribute vocal lines, eased together with a rich lo-fi that even major label shareholders can’t seem to smooth. With production again from Mike Ditrio, who’s warbled mess of feedback and distortion has guided the band through their last releases, their sound largely remains unchanged. “Spirit Was” has the tight, interlocking texture of all of Pavement’s finest moments, while tracks like “Cut From the Vine” and “Naked in the River with the Creator” invoke the throaty nylon twang and humble organ whir of some other wide-eyed mystics from their neck of the woods.

The band’s made a career out of steady, deliberate guitar grooves, and here’s no exception; “She Sustains Us” introduces the soft monophony of a Minimoog over tight, palm-muted power-pop, while “Blur” and “Pain” yelp with a strained whine that could easily be read as pop-punk if we disregard the folky lyricism. It’s this convergence of guitar-driven influences that have defined a generation of bands across the current “indie” and “emo” spectrums, stretching some of the less fashionable sounds from last decade into a cocktail of passionate thunder in deployment. Despite this apparent incongruence, LVL UP have learned that, with some hard work and a little faith in the forms, this aesthetic collaging can help bear weight toward the next generation of fuzzy, noise-drenched guitar pop.

Return to Love is a sticky, sweat-drenched spiritual that commands attention with each wrenching power chord. Far from any aesthetic bait-and-switch, the album marks a slow maturation, a deep breath of chordal refinement that for once feels like an honest distillation of form. Five years in, things seem to be paying off for the band, and on Return to Love, the formal construction they’ve worked hard to bring to term shows no signs of letting up.

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