764-HERO, while still at peace in the relative obscurity of the underground, is no longer the sort of new phenomenon that can be judged one release at a time. After two full-length albums (Salt Sinks, Sugar Floats and Get Here and Stay), an EP (We're Solids) and a brilliantly conceived collaboration with former labelmates Modest Mouse titled Whenever You See Fit, 764-HERO has written the next chapter in a continuing saga of bleak guitar rock, Weekends of Sound.
Picking up where Get Here and Stay left off (at which point the duo of John Atkins and Polly Johnson had just added a third member, bassist James Bertram, of Lync, Built to Spill, and Red Stars Theory), Weekends finds the band under the wing of producer Phil Ek, known for his shimmery ways with Northwest indie-pop/rock.
The distinctly new production aesthetic shines through in the thumps and clashes of Johnson's intricate drum patterns, in the meandering tangents of Bertram's bass lines and in the subdued tinkling of Atkins' guitar notes. In the transition between Get Here and Stay and the new record, 764-HERO's sound has leapt from two dimensions to 3-D.
The band has never been known for its optimism; from the angstful washes of guitar rock to Atkins' plaintive, despairing lyrics, 764-HERO has always been like a Valium-hazed depression -- sunken and defeated, but bitter beneath the fog. Weekends of Sound is no exception, from the bruised title track where Atkins moans, "You've got your plans/And they're frightening to us all," to the final cut, "Blue Light," which rumbles along aggressively while Atkins croons, "Reading, moving your mouth with words/That can't compare to the way it feels/To be nothing."
It's on numbers like "Leslie" that the fruits of Ek's production are most readily evident. The bass-dominated melody ebbs with muted drums crashing like waves on rocks, with Atkins' disembodied voice wailing in the background. The atmosphere captured here is what 764-HERO has been striving toward for years and has finally just arrived at. The eight-minute-long "Left Hanging" is similarly constructed with attention given to a dynamic sonic build and release. Two minutes into the song, the instrumental components are still weaving together sans vocals, gradually eliminating the negative space that dominates the introduction.
Though 764-HERO's choice of subject matter is less than uplifting, songs like "You Were the Long Way Home" and "Something Else" demonstrate that the band knows its way around prettier themes as well. When Atkins sings, "I know it's kind of late /But I just had to call /And hear your voice" on "Something Else" in the torn, wilting tone that is patently his, your heart swells with the sentiment of the music.
Angst-ridden guitar rock isn't exactly in vogue the way it once was, but the audience for it will always remain so long as amps are manufactured and hearts get broken. With Weekends of Sound, 764-HERO ranks among the most vital and cinematic in the genre. Unmistakably Seattle-born, the band provides a sad soundtrack for weeks of damp, gray days, whether literal or simply the result of the meteorology in your head.
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