- by Kenzie Fitzpatrick Rating:8 Release Date:2016-09-23 Label: Sub Pop
Brooklyn, indie-rock four-piece LVL UP almost didn’t release their latest album. After self-releasing their first two LPs, the band came to the conclusion that they would not properly be able to promote (and tour on) a new record if they released it themselves. Clearly, there were two paths: Either sign to a label like “Sub Pop, Merge, or Matador,” or call it quits entirely. Thankfully, it ended up being the former. After seeing the band play at a CMJ showcase, the “label people” at Sub Pop expressed interest in working with the band, and thus their fantastic new album, Return to Love, was born.
Return to Love sees LVL UP improving on their already successful formula – taking their layered, fuzzed-out, 90’s-inspired guitar-rock to the next level. (Pun not intended, but take it as you wish.) On the brisk, toe-tapping album opener, ‘Hidden Driver,’ guitarist/singer Dave Benton ruminates on God and the fall of man. It sounds heavy for an album opener, but it’s so infectious that it kind of doesn’t matter. Unlike when they were writing their sophomore album, Hoodwink'd, in college at SUNY Purchase, failed relationships are not the focus of these songs. Instead, the members of LVL UP find themselves struggling with larger themes. As one would imagine, Return to Love is the most emotionally mature work the band has released to date.
On ‘Pain,’ guitarist/singer Mike Caridi examines his feelings regarding the trauma of a loved one. He sings, "I hope you're cold, I hope you grow old / And never find love." It sounds like a curse that, if repeated enough, might actually manifest itself. The stripped down, mellow pace of ‘Cut from the Vine’ and the epic seven-minute closer ‘Naked in the River With the Creator’ are atypical LVL UP fare and, as such, are neatly juxtaposed against an otherwise almost entirely unpredictable collection of songs.
The band's unique songwriting setup certainly plays a part in keeping Return to Love exciting throughout the entirety of its 41-minute runtime. Dave Benton, Nick Corbo, and Mike Caridi are so in tune with each other that, (even though they don't write together), their contributions (along with drummer Greg Rutkin’s) to Return to Love all work as part of a cohesive whole. While Return to Love won’t be particularly groundbreaking to current fans, it’s as entertaining as anything in LVL UP’s catalog, and will surely entice new listeners.