LVL UP: Slanted And Enchanting

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With album number three, LVL UP continues to give you indie rock

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon in August, and Dave Benton is at his Bed Stuy apartment with fellow singer/guitarist Mike Caridi. Their band LVL UP only has a few more pre-production checklist items—video shoot, festival appearance—before kicking into full-on promo mode for Return To Love, their terrific third LP and first for Sub Pop.

It’s relatively close to where the band got its start—just an hour’s drive from SUNY Purchase—but in a similar sense, it’s a world away. More music fans, more places to gig, more industry. And the album’s growth moves in tandem: Return To Love is a confident, driving set of power pop in the vein of Neutral Milk Hotel’s blown-out acoustic fuzz and Nada Surf’s riff-driven harmonies. By comparison, 2014’s Hoodwink’d—released on the band’s label, Double Double Whammy—was more of a pop-punk/indie-rock affair akin to early Pavement, while 2011’s Space Brothers was essentially a compilation of lo-fi, GBV-esque jams recorded in fits and starts at school.

“I think Purchase allowed us to build some sort of confidence in our set,” says Caridi, who has spoken of the school’s DIY scene as an incubator in the past. “There was a really positive and supportive community there, which made it easier to start going out and playing in NYC on weekends.”

The album was recorded with longtime friend and collaborator Mike Ditrio over 20 days at Park Slope’s Seaside Lounge. Even though it was their first time in a proper studio, the only pressure came from LVL UP—not its new label.

“When we talked with everyone at Sub Pop, we told them we’ve always been very hands on,” says Caridi. “We’ve done the recording ourselves, working with our friends, releasing on our own label. They really respected that, and let us have that same control while helping bring it to a larger audience.”

It’s an outlook they try to bring to Double Double Whammy, which currently boasts a strong roster of indie-rock buzzmakers like Frankie Cosmos and Free Cake For Every Creature.

“We handle the bands the way we want a label to handle us,” says Caridi. “Or at least we try the best we can with the resources we have.”

“I think being in a band has helped keep the label grounded, never dark sided,” says Benton. “I think a lot of those big indie labels, they seem like big companies and they do make a lot of money, but at the end of the day they’re started by people like us.”

—John Vettese