On the title track of the new Bitter Bitter Weeks album, Brian McTear sounds a note of weary protest. He no longer wants revenge. He longs for only sleep and the comforting reminder of past enemies and better days. His voice is high and tired, almost at the point of strain. It is a strain that many of us have felt. Underlying the pulse of our progressive rhetoric there is a current of sadness, a desire to pretend it all never happened. A dream that our leaders will come to their senses and that the ugly divisions will heal without our daily attention. No amount of footage from the DNC or links to moveon.org can reassure us. This is a difficult time. “Revenge” is an eloquent reminder.
A producer of note in Philadelphia music circles (Burning Brides, Bigger Lovers, etc.) McTear has gained recent acclaim for his songwriting and has now released his second album as Bitter Bitter Weeks. The folk-inspired tracks often consist of little more than his voice and an acoustic guitar, but McTear has also enlisted a handful of guest musicians who lend a full band feel to a track like “Kings”. Here, the rolling piano chords, egg-shaker percussion, and ambient keyboards provide a driving contrast to the title track. Rather than weary, McTear is practically snarling as he throws a bomb at an unidentified assailant: “You’re a big fucking cock / You complain and you cry / You’re afraid of the drugs / But you’re still getting high”. But this track is an anomaly; much of this record bears the scars of loss. Written in the wake of the death of his close friend and fellow musician, Sara Weaver, whose last performance appeared on the Bitter Bitter Weeks debut album, McTear offers this document as a remembrance, a questioning lament, and a celebration of life.
On “The River Is Pale and the Water Is Wide”, McTear and his electric guitar provide an edgy, almost gothic apology for not knowing the “reason for our lives beyond remembering these times”. On “The End-Lights”, he attempts to come to terms with death while still understanding that “we all need so long to be whole again”. But “Boy Takes on Tornado” comes from a different place. Rather than dwelling on the darkest questions, this delicately beautiful track embraces the living in a life cut short: “It’s better to make pretend while you still can / It’s better to play the last cards in your hand”. This feeling of hope is continued by both the relatively buoyant live cover of the Lucys’ “Song for John”, and the somber “A Deer in the Headlights”. On the latter track, McTear acknowledges long difficult road ahead (“The world decides who’ll have it easy / The rest of us just fight for second place”), but still manages to recognize his best weapons in the war (“Love’s like a window / We open to see a better day / Now break the glass and go in the sun”). Given the state of the world and all that he’s been through, McTear’s desire to go on is reassuringly strong. He does not demand us to view life as inspirational, but rather as a journey filled with the pain of loss and the solace of healing. He is a reminder that we live in quiet protest of the unjust losses and ignorance that surround us.