February 01, 2006

The Weird Weeds "This Is Not What You Want"

Last year, Austin group the Weird Weeds released Hold Me, a debut album that went above and beyond mere excellence by forcing me to reconsider everything I knew about music. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, either you haven’t heard this album yet, or you have no idea just how much I listened to it in 2005. Ask my former roommate Dave, who couldn’t initiate a conversation with me until I deigned to turn my headphones down while listening to it. Ask my best friend Niema, who has watched me fall asleep many a night with it in the background. Ask my friend Brittany, who watched me struggle to hold back tears while we watched the band’s set at South by Southwest. (And let's not forget this editor's own experience, watching the band play a particularly dense song, only to interrupt the sustain of one of its songs by yelling "HI, SEAN!" when he entered the club.) This trio consists of a singing drummer who uses his kit as both timekeeper and sound effects generator, a singing guitarist who uses her instrument to emit iridescent drones and a guitarist who holds everything together with melodic, nimble finger-picking. Together, they split the difference between psychedelic folk and experimental noise to create a sound that is simultaneously beautiful and tense.

On January 3rd, the Weird Weeds released the five-song EP This Is Not What You Want as a free download on the Sounds Are Active website, cementing its status as 2006's first great release (beating even my hero Robert Pollard to the punch). On it, the trio strips down their already minimal setup by using acoustic instrumentation and placing less of an emphasis on singer Nick Hennies’ percussion. In spite of that, these songs sound fuller than anything on Hold Me. One reason for this is that the band is taking a more democratic approach to their vocals. Nick Hennies and Sandy Ewen sing together more this time around. They also harmonize now (instead of merely singing in unison), which makes songs like “The Butcher” and “Broken Arm” sound even more gorgeous than they already are. Another reason is that the production sounds more intimate. Hennies’ voice is placed front and center, and Aaron Russell’s guitar sounds rich enough to be a 12-string (even though I know it isn’t).

On opener “See the World,” Hennies and Ewen sing about a beautiful pastoral scene. The last two lines of the song are a poignant and succinct comment about man’s insistence on dominating nature: “If I could erase the tower to the west/It would be the most beautiful sight in the city.” The song changes both key and tempo shortly after they sing those words. The next song, “The Butcher,” is built around a one-chord drone that Russell plays with one of the strings intentionally tuned flat. “Salt Shaker” is the first Weird Weeds song to boast lead vocals by Sandy; her high, pretty voice is pitted in stark contrast against the hissing, scraping noises that she and Nick coax from their instruments. The EP peaks with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing.” The combination of Nick’s unsteady voice and Sandy’s subtle fret-board slides imbues what used to be a fanciful love song with an undercurrent of creepiness. It’s the sound of a man standing on the thin line that separates love from obsession.

In short, This Is Not What You Want gloriously fails to live up to its title. These five songs serve as even more proof that the Weird Weeds are the most creative rock band in the Austin music scene. The longer this band goes without the recognition they deserve, the more I question the already-suspect judgment of the city’s hipsters and tastemakers.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.weirdweeds.com
Label Website: http://www.soundsareactive.com

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