There’s a very real joy in witnessing a band fully come into its own and reach the pinnacle of its abilities in a way that is beyond question. That joy might just lead one to scream out “record of the year”, even at just the halfway point to December. And although that might seem a bit absurd, premature, or just unwise, with the arrival of the fifth release from Austin-based Weird Weeds, all reason disappears. Not having heard the band since their 2004 debut (“Hold Me”), I wasn’t at all sure what changes the intervening years might have brought. This new record, the first full-length vinyl release on the amazing Sedimental Records, suggests the time has been well spent. The band’s decision to self-title this instrumental record and to do away with track titles entirely indicates a self-assured approach to the music, and a willingness to stand behind it as definitive statement. And why not?!? When the music is this good, any band should be proud to claim it as a career achievement.
While retaining some of the sparse and more wiry/spiky characteristics of the earlier material, the new Weird Weeds sound is at once ultra confident, robust, and rich in texture without ever becoming too busy or cluttered. The core of the music was created by Nick Hennies (drums, percussion), Sandy Ewen (guitar), Aaron Russell (guitar), and Lindsey Verrill (upright bass). Upon initial listens to the record, it is obvious these folks have created and honed an intimate language of musical communication which is above all else parsimonious. The songs resemble conversations in which only the worthwhile things need to be said, and understanding defies simple explanation. And while there are certainly musical precedents (recent Earth records and earlier Souled American spring to mind frequently), Weird Weeds have succeeded in creating something wholly original and essential.
Guitars repeat in urgent circular patterns, spinning hypnotic minimalist mantras, while Verill bows her bass strings in a mournful sympathy, and Hennies masterfully glues it all together with a percussive skeleton. There are several unique characteristics at play with these four musicians (augmented on one track by Deerhoof’s John Dieterich, who also mixed and mastered the record), but what’s most fascinating is that each singular element is combined at the service of the whole, rendering a final mix that approaches perfection with ease. Hennies’ contributions seem to be the most ego-free here, and he only plays that which is absolutely essential. Similarly, Verill avoids the temptation to show off or to play traditional bass parts, instead usually opting for long droning textures and emotionally resonant bowing. The guitar parts, mostly clean and bright, reveal subtle details upon each listen. Open space is amply present in each song, with clear tones allowed to ring out and make their mark with serious intent.
The recording and mixing is simply astounding, allowing the listener to savor every note, pregnant pause, and tonal resolution with enjoyment. It’s difficult to imagine a better sounding record. Compositionally, Weird Weeds weave disparate instrumental threads into gorgeous narratives that move little distance, yet know their full power is not in linear movement but in engaging with the static present. The record creates forward momentum from its diversity. Slowly pulsing riffs circle and build in power before giving way to elegaic passages before picking up steam into propulsive and near joyful breakdowns. Weird Weeds have pulled off a trick that only the best of bands can achieve – to move beyond genre and into a pure artistic expression of the highest order. They’ve also managed to craft something that deftly balances accessibility and challenge. In so doing, they have created a record that can (and should) be enjoyed by all, regardless of genre allegiance. Record of the year so far? Easily.