Adam Shearer’s Weinland is one of many bands to rise out of the indie band sea that is Portland, Oregon. Shearer is a charismatic live performer, constantly cracking jokes and relaying fresh anecdotes of life on the road. Yet Weinland’s 2008 debut, La Lamentor, fully projected its title. It was an incredibly somber and morose record, powered by contemplative instrumentals and Shearer’s calmly depressed voice and lovelorn lyricism. There were few clues in and about the album that hinted that the principal songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist was, in fact, an inviting, lighthearted, almost bubbly character to meet, with a welcoming smile beaming through his thick Portland beard.
Their sophomore effort, Breaks in the Sun, continues to leave “Grizzly” Adam’s humor mostly obscured, but it is a step in the right direction. The group entered the studio with almost nothing written in advance, acting with a more carefree attitude, with the desire to capture the spirit that goes into a song when a band perform it for the first time. The lyrics are still lovelorn, and Shearer’s voice still colors every word with another layer of want, yet there is a palpable sense of freewheeling relaxation and enjoyment in the instrumentals this time around.
“Hardly Worth Saving” obviously does not follow a joyful theme, seeming to indicate the struggling economy is starting to hit musicians and their girlfriends, yet the acoustic guitar, electric piano, and rhythm section bounce along in a happily nodding fashion. “Autumn Blood” is somewhat upbeat instrumentally as well: a soaring organ flows throughout, and a prominent piano and simple electric guitar chord announce the chorus. The violin in “The Letters II” strikes me as rather sweet, over steel guitar and brushes on the drum kit (which always make me smile, for some reason). Moments like these betray a band yearning to take life a little less seriously.
At the very least, Breaks in the Sun seems tempered by slightly more cautious hope than its predecessor, but it is not enough to make a tangible difference. There is still a bit too much of a gap between the live Weinland experience and the one available on this record. It feels like they force themselves to put on a solemn façade to give their music legitimacy, when they are their own bearers of legitimacy. They work hard on their music, touring constantly to support their records, and it seems like they have a wicked time doing so. Most of the band lost or quit their jobs between albums, so they cashed out their 401(k)s and emptied their bank accounts to give Breaks a break, and have it released on their schedule. They put everything behind this record, and the effort is indeed commendable. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Yet, for the benefit of the home listener, I think they’d be better off letting their true selves shine through on record, rather than the Elliott Smith/Aimee Mann-style persona they’re trying to project. They aren’t close to Smith’s level of depression, and Shearer’s lyrical characters are not as dysfunctional as Mann’s coterie of condemned souls, so they shouldn’t try so hard to go there. You can be a little more Violent Femmes, who were masters at mixing humor with brutally honest observations from the daily grind, without going all the way to the jackass Fall Out Boy, whose song titles are consistently more memorable than the songs themselves.
Breaks in the Sun is a modest step forward, one the group likely needed to take to remain a vibrant, interested band. They proved they can wing it in the studio and walk away with an album on par with their more calculated material. However, I would like to see a more forthcoming and honest record from them in the future, one where Shearer lets the audience know the real him, with all of his quirks, smirks, and simple joys displayed alongside his stiffer, depressive musings.
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// Notes from the Road
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