The primeval power trio adds an athletic sense of conflict to shoegaze
MUSIC: THE NEW SHOEGAZE Oh sure, I like to swoon and glide, and I stayed for all of "You Made Me Realize" when the reformed My Bloody Valentine played at the Concourse. But a million easy divers and slow Rides have stretched shoegaze out of shape, forgetting the loaming fury for déjà vu-ridden ecstasy. As with all pseudo-genres in the MySpace era, a premium is placed on affect: the shiny/skuzzy veneer that rewards your click. M83's admittedly spectacular records (Before the Dawn Heals Us, Saturdays=Youth) were early harbingers of this tendency. Like big-budget fantasies of the early shoegaze sound, their effect is at once lush and deodorized.
That may be a circumspect way of introducing Weekend, but it helps me get a handle on my initial crush on the trio's "All American"/"Youth Haunts" single (Mexican Summer). Both tracks hitch the familiar layers of ultraviolet feedback to a throbbing, post-punk core—the band approaches shoegaze as a means of attack. The songs are long, but only because they're stalking another crescendo, like the blizzard of cymbals at the close of "Youth Haunts."
The striving momentum of those two tracks made even more sense when I saw Weekend perform. Mission of Burma came to mind watching the band make Dionysian waves while remaining buttoned-up and steady. There was much unifying pounding, but at such a volume that the instruments seemed to be discordantly ripping at a beautiful cloud. When I ask bassist and singer Shaun Durkan why their forthcoming album is called Sports (Slumberland), he replies, "Because the record is about episodes of conflict and opposition." That insight extends to the album's minimalist cover art, designed by friend and fellow CCA grad Jeff Brush, and redolent of post-punk's class of '79.
Weekend plays loud enough to conjure little sonic hallucinations that compliment the band's subtle, New Order-ish melodies. "We all come from punk and hardcore backgrounds where it's really not a big deal to have a cranked half-stack," guitarist Kevin Johnson explains when I meet up with him, Durkan, and drummer Abe Pedroza one sunny afternoon. And yet, the blown-out passages always channel back to the hook that was there all along. "I think that's been an idea in our band for a long time," Johnson adds, "having stuff that sounds really abrasive on the surface but that the listener can't help but find the melody."
This careful calibration surely owes something to Weekend's long gestation. Durkan and Johnson first met as sixth graders in Novato, and though Johnson moved to Reno before a band could form, the two remained in close touch, scheming a band. They started Weekend in 2009 with drummer Taylor Valentino, who was replaced by Pedroza when he moved to Boston. Aside from the first single and a split 7-inch with Young Prisms, the band quietly logged weekend sessions toward Sports with local producer Monte Vallier, who played with Durkan's father in Half Church, one of San Francisco's early post-punk groups.
The finished album, set for a Nov. 9 release, recalls Sonic Youth's mid-1980s records in its plateau-hopping sequencing and cohesive instrumental passages. Opener "Coma Summer"'s wilting chord progression and slashes of noise suggest that while the band still probably sounds best in a basement ("We'll play your Sweet 16," Pedroza jokes), they grasp the dramatics required of a larger room. "Monongah, WV" would kill either — it's one of those charmed post-punk tracks that simultaneously lilts and thrashes, overflowing a tightly wound three minutes. The more self-conscious stabs at transcendence, like slow-churning "Monday Morning" and epic "Veil," can seem a little ponderous, though the kaleidoscopic fusillade climaxing the latter is worth the wait. Throughout Sports, the rhythm section works a full-court press, a nice counterpoint to the shambling side of the San Francisco sound.
Sports comes out the same day the band opens for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at the Independent, and the guys are clearly basking in the company of the Slumberland revival. While several of the new additions to Mike Schulman's label play at fey, Weekend steers back to the edgier sounds of groups like Whorl, the Lilys, the Ropers, and Schulman's own Powderburns. "It's a crazy legacy that we're learning more and more about," Johnson says. Like all the Slumberland acts, Weekend wears its '80s and '90s influences on its sleeves, but I'm struck by Durkan's answer when I ask about the group's touchstone albums.
"Most of the records that inspired us are pretty obvious: Loveless, Unknown Pleasures, Disintegration, Psychocandy," he writes. These records were made painstakingly, and we were inspired by that thoughtful process of creation.... That process of discovering love for a record, having to work at it, always leaves me with more of an appreciation than when I'm instantly won over." Rearticulating the slow victory of great records is a welcome gesture indeed from a still young Weekend.
with Tamaryn; DJ sets by oOoOOO, and Nako and Omar
Sept. 15, 9pm, $8
647 Valencia, SF