[29 February 2004]
For a band just now releasing their major label debut, Wheat already have quite a history.
First, they released their debut album, Medeiros, on Sugarfree Records in 1997. Then, they released a limited-edition 7-inch single for Easy Tiger Records; it scored the coveted “Single of the Week” award in New Musical Express, which certainly upped their recognition in the UK. In 1999, Sugarfree released Wheat’s sophomore effort, Hope and Adams.
As a result, they were signed to Nude Records in 2000, which, unfortunately, closed shop not too long after that, leaving Wheat stuck in what they refer to as “major-label limbo.” Somehow, Zomba ended up with the band’s contract, and took wayyyyyyy too long to release them… so long that they lost rather a lot of the momentum they’d built up via their earlier releases.
Finally, almost four years after their last album, Wheat make their triumphant return to record store shelves with Per Second, Per Second, Per Second… Every Second, released as a joint effort through Columbia Records and big-time indie label Aware Records.
In a sense, Per Second is the perfect combination of mainstream and alternative in one handy package.
Columbia’s certainly a major label, but, as noted, the record is released in conjunction with Aware Records. Aware, with their semi-annual compilation discs, have, for better or worse, helped introduce the world to Better Than Ezra, the Verve Pipe, Vertical Horizon, Hootie and the Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Guster, Athenaeum, Train, Shawn Mullins, Owsley, Five for Fighting, Josh Joplin, John Mayer, and Howie Day. If you were armed just with the collected emphasis tracks from those artists, you could start your own adult alternative radio station and not have to worry about adding anything new to the playlist for a good six months, so it’s clear that, while still an independent, Aware Records have successfully infiltrated the mainstream.
Adding to the indie quotient, the album is, for the most part, produced by Dave Fridmann, whose resume is filled with years of work with the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. While the Lips may have left obscurity behind the day they appeared on Beverly Hills 90210, I don’t think anyone would claim that they’re really what you’d call a mainstream band. Fridmann, who’s also worked with Longwave, the Delgados, Ed Harcourt, Mogwai, and Sparklehorse, knows how to blend an indie sound with a mainstream gloss—to appeal to the masses without alienating the hipsters. Plus, Fridmann manned the boards for Hope and Adams, too, so it’s not as though anyone can claim that the band sold out with their choice of producer this time around.
“I Met A Girl”, the album’s lead track and first single, has been making the rounds for a while now, dating as far back as 2002’s Aware Records compilation, Aware 9. It also popped up on Ear Snacks, Vol. 1, a collection released in 2003 through Aware’s online store (located, perhaps unsurprisingly, at AwareStore.com). Those two collections found Wheat rubbing elbows with such current luminaries as Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, but what ultimately did far more to bring them into the public eye was their stint as opening act for Toad the Wet Sprocket. During that tour, Wheat were pushing their Too Much Time EP, which, no shock here, also had “I Met a Girl” as its lead track. If nothing else, the persistent promotional push behind this one song deserves to score the band some airplay; its unique combination of being simultaneously quirky and catchy should catch the ears of listeners.
Toad’s frontman, Glen Phillips, contributes vocals to “These Are Things”; the only other notable cameo on the album comes courtesy of Andy Sturmer, late of Jellyfish, who pops up on background vocals for “Closer to Mercury”. Both songs, with or without their guest stars, are highlights of the album, but then this is an album with many highlights; the songs are consistently catchy and memorable throughout. In addition to the track already cited, dig “Life Still Applies” and “Can’t Wash It Off”. And despite the group’s decision to leave the lo-fi mope of their earlier years mostly behind, songs like “Hey, So Long (Ohio)” and “The Beginning” still bear some resemblance to the past.
No, perhaps Per Second isn’t as “indie” in sound as its predecessors, but that’s more to do with the change in the band’s style than the production or, God forbid, the label on which it’s been released. Four years and a lot of emotional turmoil can work wonders to change a band’s musical direction.
No matter what may have preceded it, Per Second, Per Second, Per Second… Every Second is an unqualified success.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/wheat-persecond/