When the Weird Weeds released their debut album Hold Me last year, it was easy to focus on the titular weirdness of the band's sound. I heard Nick Hennies play drums with sticks, bows and ratchets, using his kit as both timekeeper and sound effects generator; I heard guitarist Sandy Ewen eke noises and drones from her strings with bows, nails and chalk; I heard guitarist Aaron Russell stabilize the music with his light, intricate fingerpicking. Their songs went on odd, abrupt detours, ended way before I thought they would, and often blurred into one another. After repeatedly seeing them live, I realized that the sounds in their songs that I initially thought were random were in fact intentional and precisely choreographed. Their music breathed new life into the cliché “everything happens for a reason.” I knew that the band was doing something new --- or, at least, something rare. I latched onto their music quickly, and they became my favorite band in Austin.
Whereas the thrill of listening to Hold Me came primarily from the newness of the Weird Weeds' instrumental setup and compositional approach, the band takes things one step further on their follow-up Weird Feelings by using their intuitive editing and sonic trickery to elicit an emotional response from the listener. The title track is the album's most obvious example. During the first half of the song, Hennies stomps on a prepared kick drum without any regard for meter, while Sandy and Aaron use chalk slides and behind-the-bridge picking to make their guitars glide in and fade out around him. For its first two minutes, “Weird Feelings” bears little resemblance to even the average Weird Weeds song, let alone a conventional rock song; therefore, it would make most listeners to scratch their heads on first listen. When the song's sole lyric (“You feel so alive”) is sung, the band's point is made clear. It is moments like the song's first two minutes, when we're forced to step out of our comfort zone, that we really do feel the most alive.
This album really is about “weird feelings”: love, loss, guilt, regret and disorientation all make subtle appearances on the lyric sheet. At three chords, two sentences and one minute, opener “Bad Dreams” is a marvel of economy. However, it is also a heartfelt plea for reconciliation, in which Nick and Sandy sing in thin, shaky voices that exude humility and unease. It is one of three songs on the album that use sleep as a metaphor for peace. On “Alley,” Nick sings of being tormented by guilt over an unnamed transgression: “Airplanes and trash collectors/They disturbed our sleep/but not as much as I did.” Closing track “Cold Medicine” ends with the words “go to sleep,” sung four times by Nick and Sandy in placid harmony. Each verse of “In Your Arms” begins with the words “what I remember,” and runs through a series of disconnected details that form an incomplete yet sordid narrative: “A bloody floor/A monkey boy/Cocaine in my chin.” On “Tupper,” Nick sings earnestly about the companionship of his dogs (“We'll scratch our faces against the floor/I'll fill your home with love”), while bowing his kit to imitate the sound of their whimpering.
Weird Feelings' wordless moments are just as powerful. The band still has a startling approach to dynamics: they will play so quietly that you'll have to place your ears next to the speakers to hear the notes, only to lunge into a loud, jarring chord that will make you recoil in fright. On the instrumental “Nose to the Wind,” it takes Nick almost a minute and a half to use his snare drum; when he finally does, his rolls have the volume and force of gunshots. Not to be outdone, Sandy continues to find new ways to make her guitar sound like anything but itself. On the intro of “One-Eyed Cloud,” the combination of a tremolo effect and chalk sliding makes her instrument sound like hovering aircraft; on the intro of “Cold Medicine,” she imitates the sonorous pitter-patter of steel drums. Last but not least, Aaron graces “Broken Arm” with a bouncy, countrified riff that would pass muster at the Grand Ole Opry (he IS originally from Nashville, after all), and runs up his fretboard on “Cold Medicine” to play fills that flow like a waterfall in reverse.
“For you to see me,” Sandy sings on one song, “you'll have to come closer.” The title track aside, this lyric summarizes Weird Feelings most accurately. This is a subtly interactive album, one that forces us to throw away almost everything we know about conventional song structure, and to focus instead on how the music makes us feel. It is challenging, it is inspiring, and it is one of the best albums I've heard all year.
Artist Website: www.weirdweeds.com
Label Website: www.soundsareactive.com