There Is a Beautiful Paradox at the Heart of Weval's 'The Weight'
Weval's The Weight walks a fine line between joy and melancholy with supreme elegance, offering shades of light and dark in equal measure.
1 March 2019
There is a beautiful set of paradoxes inherent in Weval's second full-length album The Weight, involving light and darkness, light and heaviness, art and pop, and other polarities too numerous to mention. But for all of the diametrical oppositions this suggests, there is a terrific synthesis that ultimately resolves all of those polarities into a wonderfully interwoven sequence of instrumental and vocal music. All of this might sound rather pretentious in a way that the album itself isn't; it's fully accessible and deceptively easy to listen to without in any way even remotely approaching easy listening territory.
In advance press materials about the album, Weval's Harm Coolen and Merijn Scholte Abers said, "We've always wanted a narrative for the album, and finding the right order perhaps took the most effort." They go on to talk about an experience of commingled joy and personal difficulty during the making of the album. Indeed, the sequencing of this beautiful work seems to be vitally important to the listening experience, as if it were quite carefully curated not only for a satisfying aural experience but also to reflect a certain emotional trajectory that is by no means teleological.
There are many twists and turns of sound and feeling as the album progresses, and the overall effect feels both hermetic and inviting at the same time. This is a world of sound that is simultaneously closed off and self-contained while also seeming to invent and invite a community of listeners and participants who are welcome to roam around inside the scene it has created. In this way, it also functions as an album that works equally well alone and with company, fully outward-facing, or fully solitary on headphones or while driving. This versatility is only one of the many pleasures The Weight has to offer.
The Weight proceeds at a fascinating and quite determined pace of its own making, and moves through a broad emotional spectrum, offering moments of intensity and displacement, along with counter-balancing passages of soothing refuge and respite from the storms it has previously conjured. There are also sequences of songs here that are utterly entangled with each other so that it is impossible to speak about them in isolation, but only insofar as they are connected to their immediate predecessors and successors. This inter-connectedness becomes therefore a figure for the album as whole, so that we, the invented/invited audience, come to share the weight that the album's title suggests, and to carry it together, dissipating the twinned burdens of grief and disappointment across an album that ultimately generates more light than darkness, but is aware of the necessity for the contrast between the two.
The title of the record might lead the listener to expect a heavy experience, but the lead-off title track belies that expectation with a relatively delicate introduction to what is to follow. A gentle mid-tempo song establishes a groove that also engenders a certain paradoxical feeling in the listener – mild musical euphoria along with a certain sense of foreboding that inheres in the song's title, as if we should prepare ourselves for a certain kind of potentially gloomy introspection while also being permitted to sway gently in the breezes of the music during our time of observant meditation.
That modest and gentle groove is sustained into the second song "Roll Together", until we get to the first moment of genuine musical power on the album, "Are You Even Real", which strongly recalls the heyday of Boards of Canada, who themselves achieved that delicate balance of joy and melancholy so perfectly. This song matches that achievement stride for stride, offsetting the ethereality of the vocals with the plasticity of the instrumental arrangement, and the almost sticky tactility of the drum sound that comes across as a stuttering kind of pulse that almost feels as if it might be coming from inside the listener rather than the performer.
Perhaps as part of Weval's plan to draw us into their web without us noticing how enmeshed we have become within it, the first few songs are lacking in aural tension or friction so that we stay tuned for the slight dissonance that is to come. If "Are You Even Real" is a bridge to that darker place, then we are introduced rather more completely to a kind of darkness in the trio of songs "False State of Mind", "Someday", and "Heaven, Listen". "False State of Mind" purveys a slightly jarring bass sound, while "Someday" convulses with a drum and bass backdrop that suggests something sinister lurking beneath the initial lightness of tone we encountered at the outset. "Someday" ultimately blossoms into a peak of synthesized sounds that leaves rhythm behind altogether, as if the bottom has dropped out of our collective mood, to leave us in temporary isolation. "Heaven, Listen" is perhaps the strangest song on the album, seeming to resolve after a while into a lilting electronic pop song that has a certain queasiness to it, after which there is a reprieve with the comedown of "Couldn't Do It Better".
The real revelation on The Weight, though, comes in the suite of songs that begins with "Same Little Thing" and continues through "Silence on the Wall", and "Look Around". The busy drumbeat of "Same Little Thing" introduces a percussive concentration that more fully evolves into the album's ten minutes of genius in the twinned "Silence on the Wall" and "Look Around". Drummer Nicky Hustinx recorded a single drum track for both songs, forming a continuous backdrop that allows the songs to run into each other, the former sung by guest vocalist and friend of the band Romy Day, and the second by the band, so that the female voice and the male voice are unified by the common drum track, a drum track (by the way) that somewhat strangely recalls Steve Gadd's pioneering riff on Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover".
However, by the time we are a couple of minutes into "Look Around", that drum track has also evolved into something much less regimented, and the vocals themselves have disappeared into the unified soundscape of the song itself as if everything has eventually and imperceptibly melted. These two tracks taken together (as Weval seem to insist that they must be) encapsulate the elegant balance that the album itself manages to achieve, and the sleight of hand by which we are brought, by inches, to a place we suddenly no longer recognize.
And then we stop. The end of "Look Around" is a hard out, and while we pick up with a similar (if subdued) drum track for "Doesn't Do Anything", it feels like we are being brought home with a dying fall, as the trio of songs that power down and conclude the album, "Doesn't Do Anything", "Heartbreak Television", and "Who's Running Who", seem to recall the way that the opening three songs ramped it up, providing chilled out bookended suites of songs to an album with an intense heart at its core.