Ben Weaver: Mirepoix & Smoke

Weaver wants to be personal, intimate, and profound but only comes off as trite, uninteresting, and self-absorbed.

Ben Weaver

Mirepoix & Smoke

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2010-10-19
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25

Mirepoix (pronounced "meer-pwah"), for those who don't know, is a French concoction of aromatics, namely carrots, celery, and onions, primarily used to flavor stocks, soups, and sauces. While working on this album, Ben Weaver was employed at a restaurant, making mirepoix all day, his hands reeking of it perpetually. His goal was to make a highly personal record, and the smell became part of him.

He's a published poet, and these songs are essentially personal poetry set to the sparsest music you can imagine. The New York Times compared Weaver to the Band and Tom Waits, but on Mirepoix & Smoke, he comes across as a young Leonard Cohen dabbling in Americana. I love Cohen, and I love the not-too-specific genre they call Americana, but this album is, frankly, terrible, and was a chore to listen to, and continues to be a chore as I write this up. Thank God or [insert deity] there are only nine tracks.

Weaver's modus operandi is to sing like a baritone Matt Keating while lazily plucking a banjo or acoustic guitar, sometimes utilizing Erica Froman from Anathallo to provide off-key backup vocals and/or piano, and once or twice adding upright bass and hushed drums. The songs were recorded live, or in two takes, by Neil Strauch, who has collaborated with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Iron & Wine (makes sense).

The excursion begins with "Grass Doe", which is more melodically sound than most tracks here, but it contains a strong penchant for trite lyrics and tired imagery. I'm sure his books of poems are as essential as Jewel's. "City Girl" follows, showing what amazing things a bass and some drums can do, and we'd be getting somewhere if Weaver could figure out what a melody is. "Drag The Hills" goes for the ultimate intimate sparseness, which can be a very powerful thing if you've got the talent to pull it off. Weaver doesn't.

"East Jefferson" is the only track that I can speak about positively (well, in my own cynical way). His formula hasn't changed, but he manages to come out with an engaging melody, and the vocal harmonies aren't a disaster. Still, it's nothing revelatory. By the time I got to "While I'm Gone", my notes simply read: "BORING. JUST BORING." I was far too vexed at that point to elaborate.

After a break, I got to "Maiden Cliff", with its pitchy vocals, unsuccessful traditional folk flavors, and its complete inability to engage the listener. Are we having fun yet? "Split Ends" is the track most reminiscent of early Leonard Cohen, without any of the mystery or intrigue that Cohen so effortlessly evoked. "22 Shells" seems to be going for the Americana doom of Woven Hand but lacks any energy or atmosphere (which can be said about every song on here). And to finish it all off, Weaver provides his most unforgivable track, "The Rooster's Wife", where he seems to be resting on the laurels he's created in his own mind, plucking a completely unlistenable "melody", making his intentions so transparent that the outcome is strictly pathetic.

Of course, Weaver's got critics up his ass, proclaiming his brilliance and so on and so on. You know, if I wanted to hear a guy with no concept of vocal melodies pick a banjo at a snail's pace, I'd just go to a lousy Nashville bar or coffee shop. The city's only an hour away. "Left the songs alone for the most part," says the man, "like unbroken horses that had never known a saddle / with burrs and river water in their manes". Go on and think you're a poet, man, but saying shit like that just makes you sound like a self-absorbed asshole. Mirepoix & Smoke offers almost nothing and is, for the most part, completely without merit.

Maybe next time you shouldn't leave the songs alone.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.