[2 January 2011]
Sound Affects Editor
The problem with the American underground rock scene’s current fascination with third- and fourth-division late ‘80s indie label alt-rock (mainly focusing on C86 and the evolutional through-line from noise pop to dream pop to shoegaze) is that the upstart crop of bands enthused by that stream of music are by and large replicating their forebears wholesale, with little modernization going on and almost no attempt to distinguish themselves. It’s one thing to wear influences on the sleeve, and quite another to sound like a glorified cover band when in actuality you’re delivering originals.
This is an issue that afflicts recent Slumberland Records signing Weekend. Despite frequent allusions to post-punk tendencies in music-press raves, this group, formed in San Francisco, CA, in actuality downplays its stated Joy Division influence for a rather straightforward alternative rock recipe of punishingly loud distorted guitar-strumming, throbbing basslines, and feedback/pop melody juxtapositions. The band’s debut full-length Sports is a record that places the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy at one end, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything at the other, and proceeds to connect the dots linking the two epochal 1980s alt-rock albums in the most linear way possible. The sound is familiar and there are some appealing tunes present (once you dial back the volume down to a reasonable level, that is), but it’s hard to really care about a band that comes off like a generic version of modern noise-pop traditionalists a Place to Bury Strangers, much less the original source material.
Weekend’s basic game plan for Sports consists of laying down eighth note basslines that indicate the simple chord changes, then enveloping them with echoing vocals and layers of feedback cranked up to deafening volumes. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a sound approach—after all, it’s what the Jesus and Mary Chain made its name on in the mid-‘80s—that has the unfortunate hard-to-counter side affect of robbing the songs of their individuality. Take “Monongah, WV”, which starts off with a faster-than-usual punky bass part that is then overwhelming by the torrent of noise, transforming it into a cut hard to distinguish from the standard employed on the record. Weekend also likes to push toward longer song lengths. More than half of the album’s 10 songs push past the four-minute barrier, and four of those extend beyond five minutes. That doesn’t suit the style the band is employing, where brevity often works best.
The reason that’s so is because unless you’ve got killer hooks or some interesting instrumental interplay going on, chugging along through chord changes can get tedious after two to three minutes. Occasionally Weekend will attempt to kick things up a notch, a prime example being the frenzied MBV-style rave-up that ends “Youth Haunts”. The best songs are the ones that do the most to depart from the rigid template Weekend is infatuated with. Closing cut “Untitled’ has a voice wafting in and a crescendoing drum beat to signal the start of business, while the grungy stomp of “Age Class” manages to maintain its identity amidst the wall of noise, dropping out only for a short pause partway through the song that’s very reminiscent of Primal Scream. In fact, what really makes “Age Class” stand out is that it’s one of the few instances where Weekend feels like it has an actual personality. Elsewhere it’s hard to find anything particular unique in its songs.
One could conceivably forgive Weekend’s derivative sins if the final result was gripping. Yet the band lacks the skill of My Bloody Valentine and the brazenness of Jesus and Mary Chain, ultimately rendering their music faceless amongst the sea of competitors trawling the same waters. Listening to Sports, you kind of get the feeling that the band was signed because it’s such a generic noise-pop vehicle. When people run out of Pains of Being Pure at Heart releases to purchase, it helps keep the label healthy if it has something by Generic Slumberland Band No. 4 ready to go, to fulfill any base desire for noise pop until something more remarkable is available to truly satisfy the customer.