I guess it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that I like this record; I posted an interview with band member Eli Chastain just yesterday, and I think my questions probably gave away that I really like their music. Their first EP, Everything and Nothing, was really good, song-by-song– however, individually, it didn’t build to a cohesive “sound”. Super Major, their debut LP, does not have that problem. In fact, after listening to it several times, one of the most impressive things to me was the structure of the record: it builds and falls in all the right places, and it feels like a complete record. From top to bottom, every song feels like a necessary part of the album.
My original review was written almost from top-to-bottom; discussing why the songs fit together so perfectly. And then Eli told me about how they’re releasing the record– two songs at a time, an A/B side, and out of order– so that people can make their own track listing and order before they announce how they structured it. This is brilliant, partially because of how well-structured the record is. It’s made the review more difficult though, ha, but suffice it to say: the structure that I like so much in the record is also present individually, song-by-song; these are well-written and well-played, as well as having a pretty impressive “x-factor”– I can’t say exactly what it is that makes this record so good, but it stands out against the rest of the new records in my collection right now. I keep going back to it; I sing along with it; I have it in my car. Super Major is an impressive first record.
The first two songs (which were released today HERE) are “Changing the Locks” and “Slidin’ Home”. I’d asked Eli about “Changing the Locks” when we talked because it bears some similarities, musically, to Ryan Adams’s “Dirty Rain”. I think the real shame of that is, of course, is that it’s a phenomenal song; and that the songs are lyrically very different. The lyrics to “Changing the Locks” are more than standard alt-country fare (which makes sense, as I would hesitate to call The Weakenders anything but a rock act). The chorus:
That look in your eyes said “stop me”
But I’m too tired for that
So I’m changing the locks if you’re leavin’
So don’t bother now
is perfect: there’s a palpable exhaustion through the entire song. The instrumentation mimics the exhaustion back, too– the guitar part is lilting. It’s just desperately sad. Part of what I was immediately drawn to with The Weakenders is their vocals; the harmonies are eery in places and triumphant in others. And more than that, while the vocals are beautiful– they’re raw and unfiltered. It sounds like a much older song than it is (or that it was written by a much older artist)– Super Major has a lot of points where it has the same kind of atmosphere as a 70′s rock record. If you can even get a second or two of that from a newer release, that’s an amazing sign: they’re tapping into something really universal and good here.
The B-side, “Slidin’ Home,” is one of the best stories on the record (and Eli talked a little bit about it yesterday)– this is another song where you could just as easily compare it to a late 70s folk-rock act. I think that the Weakenders’s greatest songwriting strength is that they know how to write a chorus: it’s so often that you hear a chorus and it’s the throwaway part of the song. It is usually, by far, the most evocative part of a Weakenders song. For example: ”It’s hard to hide when everybody knows where you drink at night/ This place on 14th street where the lights go way down low/ No fancy faces here/ Just sad ol’ Max singing Waylon Jennings songs”. Maxwell is introduced as a baseball player who has a hard time going from being a ‘someone’ to going back home to his hometown, where everyone knows the ‘real’ him. It’s a gorgeous song, and deals with familiar subject matter with a new twist; it’s just stunning.
Two of my favorite songs on the record are “Vanity Fair” and “Sink or Swim,” and it’s all about the attitude in the music. There’s a rock ‘n roll swagger, a brashness, and great heavy guitar parts. They’re easily songs that would have been believable during an era with songs like, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Joe Cocker’s “A Little Help From My Friends.” ”Sink or Swim” especially has a slinky, heavy guitar line that blows me away every time. I’ve found that these songs get stuck in my head pretty often– another good sign, because to be honest, as a music blogger, I hear so much music in a given day, it’s difficult for me to separate some of it out after a while. This whole record stands out because the sounds all come together so well– however, the individual songs really stand out, too. There’s so much great water imagery in “Sink or Swim”, and the vocals, again, are stellar (even in the live clips like above: I’d recommend you listen to this song so you can get an idea of the different kinds of sounds this band is capable of).
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about a new band because, while you might like a song or two, that’s no real statement on whether or not you’ll like what they do going forward. I feel pretty confident I can stand behind a full endorsement of The Weakenders. This record is great. Their EP was great. And I anticipate nothing but great music coming out of them. With influences from the late 60s and 70s through Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, they take the best parts of classic American rock and update them– but not too much. It’s a great sound and one I haven’t been hearing a lot of.
CATCH THE WEAKENDERS ONLINE AT:
AND BEGIN FOLLOWING THE SINGLE RELEASES AT THEIR WEBSITE: