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Review: Lvl Up Balance Grit, Romance on Sub Pop Debut ‘Return to Love’

Our take on the Brooklyn indie-rockers’ third LP

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Lvl Up's Sub Pop debut is 'Return to Love'

Shawn Brackbill

Lvl Up are a quartet of Brooklyn dudes with their own style of exuberant guitars-are-go momentum. They’ve put out an impressive pile of recordings on their own Double Double Whammy label, but their fantastic third album (and Sub Pop debut) Return To Love is a real head-spinning breakthrough – full of scruffily dazed romanticism, weirdly pastoral even though there’s plenty of urban grime in their fuzz pedals. Their sound might evoke Nineties bands like Built To Spill, Sebadoh or Neutral Milk Hotel, but with three singer-songwriters on the case, Lvl Up hit grandly emotional highs whether they’re singing deadpan odes to spooky girls (“The Closing Door”) or cosmic mysteries (“Hidden Driver”) or both (“Spirit Was”). They get psychedelic in the seven-minute finale “Naked in the River With the Creator.” But the clincher is “Pain,” an achingly venomous song about a specific kind of rage that’s practically impossible to write songs about despising the guy who hurt somebody you love and fantasizing about revenge. It’s the kind of song you can’t get away with unless you’re willing to take it all the way, but these guys don’t shy away from the challenge. They chant the curse – “hope you’re cold, I hope you grow old and never find love” – and drive it home with guitars that mean to sting, building to a daringly anthemic climax without a false or corny note. It’s the most thrilling surprise on an album that’s full of them.

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