Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Weekend's "Jinx": Music Review

This San Francisco trio, now in Brooklyn, started out noisier with an album I loved, Sports, in 2010. They toured with the Kills and with Wire, and their post-punk take conveyed verve, cogency, and talent. Familiar as it seemed to fans such as myself from templates thirty-odd years ago, it satisfied. Honed and confident, it connected. The Red e.p. in 2011 proved somewhat smoother, foreshadowing the unruffled tone of Jinx now.

"Mirror" opens with calm, nearly New Romantic gauziness, shifts into Krautrock, and then cruises into a melody reminiscent of "The Forest" by The Cure before bassist Shaun Durkan's vocals enter "I feel sick, sick, in my heart" he avers, over and over. However, the light tone of this belies the sentiment, echoed over Kevin Johnson's guitar, heavy with effects. Abe Pedroza's drums provide solid support, if in a very early 1980s manner.

Picking up the pace with a rattling "July" shows off the band's shimmering textures. The downloaded MP3 file provided feels fragile and tinny, but I suppose this production is intentional. Headphones help to plunge you into the sonic sludge, sweetening the mix with burbles and hiss. This nestles into the Slumberland Records label's affection for British-inspired sounds from three-plus decades ago.

As with its labelmates, Weekend thrives on recreating its influences, and having fun despite edging into gloom or at least a wallflower's pose at the night out. "Oubliette" stays consistent, and it jangles in a fashion that churns under the mix, which tries to bury its melody under a wave of distortion. Durkan's voice, while not immediately distinctive, matches the understated feel of his bandmates' music, set on creating a mood--tuneful, but not too poppy despite the frothy surface over the murk.

Durkan sings in a phrasing neither West nor East Coast. Underneath the swirl, a listener may struggle to discern his accent's origins. The geographical specificity suggested by the title "Celebration, FL" fails to define the distant, forlorn presence, recalling New Order, of the guitar patterns arching over this solemn fourth track. "I want to fade away" repeats over a severe drum beat, hacking away at air.

Similar to the first song, "Sirens" begins with a motorik rhythm. The soundstage looms larger, full of mild menace, suiting the title. "Adelaide" proves the loudest song so far, with a more insistent beat. Johnson's bass hums along, although the results seem a bit slight compared to the previous density.

However, Weekend can craft catchy songs, and while lyrics often get subsumed beneath the layers of reverberation, this might not detract from the trio's intent to focus on the overall effect of chiming riffs over waves of darker shades beneath the vocals, which hover between optimism and pessimism. "I want to save you from the world," promises Durkan on "Adelaide".

My Bloody Valentine felt sure to linger, and it arrived via "It's Alright" with its hesitant drums rat-a-tat as the guitars stretched out in slow arcs over a grumbling bass. On cue, the background vocals signaled a struggle to advance through the sludge towards beauty. It's not original, but it's a worthy tribute, as this album is itself, to the impact of Weekend's forebears upon today's admirers.

Each song stays short. Their first album clocked ten compact tracks, and so does this second full-length recording--full remaining a relative term for the wise brevity of Jinx. "Rosaries" sustains the album's quality of consistency, while each song contributes a different mood, subtle yet evident. This turns the nearly wordless vocal backing into a loop, to enhance the circular image of a rosary.

After this, an ominous "Scream Queen" rustles beneath a more industrial opening, before it lurches into a count-off, chanted chorus by Durkan that reaches out of Pedroza's clatter while tethered to Johnson's effects-laden guitar. Durkan paces his bass well here, to let the sinister play off the perky.

Ending this tidy, direct album, "Just Drive" starts off with a confident, hard rocking pound, less evasive than what has preceded it. Guitars here alternate between a drill and a delayed riff, accentuating the by-now typical match of a harsher edge with a smoother delivery that Weekend appears to be perfecting by this stage in their career.

While this may delight those already devoted to the trio's predecessors, it deserves a hearing by newer listeners finding out about New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, or My Bloody Valentine for the first (or hundredth) time. Weekend follows in venerable footsteps. Jinx advances the progress evident already in Red and Sports, and avoids whatever sophomore slump its title may suggest. (PopMatters 8-1-13 and 7-25-13 to  Amazon US)

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