Noise. It’s the word your parents would use to describe your music when it was particularly trying for them. It is an insult placed on songs that are just plain loud. It signifies a lack of skill, or lack of focus, or even just a disregard for the audience by the musician or band. But at some point, things changed. Perhaps first at a My Bloody Valentine show, during one of their holocausts in “You Made Me Realise” or maybe earlier when feedback experimentation and manipulation was first attempted. At some point, though, noise ceased being an automatic insult. This was a good day for music.
Weekend, a San Francisco based trio, can be noisy; this is without question. Their debut album, Sports, begins with “Coma Summer,” an extended driving jam that pushes the listener to the edge of what is tolerable and what is uncomfortable. For about thirty seconds they delve onto the wrong side of that line, but skip back with grace to a more listenable sound for the remaining four or so minutes. Though difficult, the song is ultimately more rewarding because of it. Think about the No Age single “Glitter” and note the similarities in Sports to what No Age is currently doing, whether it’s the noise vs anthem combat that populates “Coma Summer” or the four minutes of shoe-gazing that is “Monday Morning,” which turns out to be just an extensive intro to the next jam.
But what is refreshing about these known techniques is that they don’t sound at all like No Age or other bands who employ them. Instead, they draw their actual aesthetic from darker sounds from rock. A Place to Bury Strangers comes to mind. The Jesus and Mary Chain and of course Joy Division are also clear influences, echoed in their sound like it would be a literal impossibility to avoid their influence because of the sheer time they spent listening to them.
As they knew, whether consciously or not, where to cease with the No Age/Sonic Youth influence (listen to “End Times” and tell me you don’t expect Thurston or Kim to come in at the verse), they also manage to remove the darkness from the post punk their melodies derive from. Part of this is a realization from seeing their performance, where they appear focused and often serious, but never mopey, down or in-pain. And at the root you can tell they are having fun. Even in a tune called “Coma Summer”, with the yell of singer Shaun Durkan tying together haunting noise and a rather bouncy rhythm section, it is easy to imagine the trio smirking at the chaos throughout. I mean, the album’s name is Sports.
With these influences placed front and center in their tunes, Weekend runs the risk of being written off as a derivative clone; as a band more interested in replicating their heroes than building off the foundation they laid. Fortunately, Weekend has enough personality to ward off this unfair label. For one, their chemistry, seen often in their song’s opening moments, is remarkably tight for a debut. Durkan and drummer Abe Pedroza give each number such a solid foundation that the experimentation is free to come and go as it pleases. “Veil” is an ultimate slow burner, where besides a few drum fills, the rhythm remains solid until the song reaches it climax. And as worthwhile and fulfilling as that climax is, the build-up doesn’t feel transitory because of the use of both the guitar noise and vocal manipulation. They play on the standards and what you expect of a rock band. Many bands do this, but the they wind up with a less enjoyable song because of it. Weekend knows how to betray expectations without sacrificing the ultimate affect. It’s refreshing and it makes the album damn fun to listen to.
But while nearly any of the band’s influences could be phased out with plenty left to draw from, the band has created one calling card on Sports that they will be identified with and have no choice but to continue to explore as they progress: Noise. The songs would still be enjoyable without the noise, but they wouldn’t be special. In 2010, a good rock song isn’t as hard to create as some bands make it seem. However, what people likely are appreciating isn’t the element of rock and roll that ties the song to a tradition. Rather, they appreciate what sets it apart. Though technical proficiency is admirable, it is trainable. Whether in Nicki Manaj and her vocal delivery overshadowing that there are better rappers out there, Joanna Newsom and her squeaks and lyrical depth covering up that there are better singers and harpists out there, or Pavement and their slack-motherfucking attitude for being musicians demanding attention when there are better bands out there: having something that no one can replicate is more valuable than any trainable skill. Weekend has a special knack for noise. Not yet nearly at the social, commercial or artistic level at the above artists, but perhaps eventually as capable. Besides A Place To Bury Strangers, and maybe No Age (their noise is drifting into beauty and losing it’s abrasion, and it is their earnestness and sincerity that is their intangible, not their noise), there is a lack of quality noise-pop being made right now, the kind that dares to make you leave the room while ultimately inviting you to stay and enjoy well-written rock songs, one after the other.
Stick with the noise Weekend, you may be on to something.